How to Appreciate Abstract Art

Are you not among the folks who 'get' abstract art? Would you rather see in a painting a boat, or a tree, or a napping kitten? Maybe...and I get it. I still and always will adore Degas' ballerinas and Cezanne's oranges. In fact studying Degas and Cezanne helped me launch into a love affair with abstract art. Do you know why? Because it's not the ballerinas or the oranges that we love. We respond to the arrangement of shapes -- the strong composition -- whether we know it or not, and these guys were brilliant at this.

 From my little book, "Treasures of 19th and 20th Century Painting - The Art Institute of Chicago."

From my little book, "Treasures of 19th and 20th Century Painting - The Art Institute of Chicago."


Now that I paint pure abstracts and love them, I would like to help you appreciate this kind of art, too. I used to think abstract art is just chaos, but it's not. It's a controlled rhythm of color shapes. As an artist you want to arrange those color shapes into a beautiful pattern to create a great painting! Someone will connect with and love the colors and patterns you create. It's all about balance, order, rhythm and unity. Those are your arranging tools. I always flip my canvas around multiple times to help me see what is balanced and what isn't. Balance can be among big and small shapes, or color, or texture, or space. Quiet areas against busy areas. Loud color complements calm color. 

 "Let Go of Perfect" by Heidi Harner 2017

"Let Go of Perfect" by Heidi Harner 2017

The Elements and Principles of Design are the foundation of all painting whether it is highly realistic or purely abstract (I will expound on the elements and principles in future posts). If you boil down a good representational painting to the bones you will see a basic value pattern (a dark and light pattern of shapes). This abstract pattern holds the power in the painting, not the details and all that. The people at Zoe Bios Creative penned it perfectly, "Abstract art is typically about color and form. It can calm and inspire the mind because it doesn't attach to memory the way figural or representational works can." I couldn't have said it better. 

Who are your favorite artists and why?

Mural Project in Manhattan

This is such an honor to be chosen as one of the artists included in a 5-year long installation at the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City. The mural project encompasses five floors of the building, each floor representing one of the books of the Torah. 

 On the right, "Let the Land Lie Fallow" by Heidi Harner. Photo courtesy of Amy Reichert.

On the right, "Let the Land Lie Fallow" by Heidi Harner.
Photo courtesy of Amy Reichert.

Last fall I was asked by Amy Reichert of Chicago for permission to use my painting (an image of the original) in the project. It is quite thrilling to know my work is among some of the greatest artists' works of all time: Rembrandt, Titian, Gerard Richter, Paul Klee. I believe there are about 50 other contemporary artists as well. I have not been to New York to see it in person but I plan on it. If you go, please be sure to send me some photos! 

 Leviticus. Photo courtesy of Amy Reichert.

Leviticus.
Photo courtesy of Amy Reichert.

  © Heidi Harner 2017

© Heidi Harner 2017

My painting "Let the Land Lie Fallow" is about God's concept of rest for us. Leaving the land to rest would help it to regenerate, becoming more fertile for the next years of planting. Same concept for resting on Sundays. It's an open invitation to not work, and enjoy playing. I often struggle with resting. You may too. We feel guilty. We feel we are not doing our part if we take some time out of our schedule to play, or nap, or just to be still. True rest means to trust that all will not fall apart when you take time to slow down. It doesn't have to be confined to Sundays. Every day I try to get in some time to meditate, be still, pray, read. Then I am able to handle life with a little more grace (most of the time!). How do you like to take time to rest or play?

My art story.

I became interested in abstraction by the openness of it all. 
I saw endless possibilities. 

~ Stanley Whitney
 Soul Rest, by Heidi Harner 2017.

Soul Rest, by Heidi Harner 2017.

Last week a friend of mine suggested I write about my art journey and what led me to paint in the style that I do today, which is called Abstract Expressionism.  I like to say I paint ideas about things, not just things. 

Here goes! I'll keep it short and sweet because I know you have a to-do list calling your name.

My love for creating came at an early age. I would steal away for hours to draw, color, and create. It was satisfying beyond anything else. Even eating Cheetos.

 Cheesy

Cheesy

 

All through school art classes were my forte. I made a college boyfriend jealous by getting a better grade than him - I was taking his required illustration class as an elective. It was SUPER fun and easy. He was annoyed with me so I dumped him (there were other reasons too).

 I'm free. Free fallin'

I'm free. Free fallin'

 

I entered into the working world as a graphic designer, and I soon realized I wouldn't survive the cubicle. But I did my job (okay, many jobs) until my new husband got through graduate school and made enough money so we could have basic shelter. 

 Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

 

Then I began to pursue my art business full time. I started out painting pet portraits in watercolor for money. Mary Engelbreit Magazine published a couple paintings of mine. For two years I had work from that one small thing. Free advertising is great. 

I sold my work pretty well here in the Midwest with my animal paintings and landscapes and then I had to raise my prices. And people stopped buying. And I realized these weren't my peeps anymore. You can only do so many tent shows and make enough money for the drive home. You basically pay for a tent fee and the wine -  because people love to drink free wine and look at art. I mean, who doesn't? But then you're left with a bunch of empty wine bottles to recycle. Sure, there are artists who make a great living working the tent show circuit. I admire them. I sold my tent. 

 Art 4 Sale

Art 4 Sale

 

Then I got into my first gallery -- oh, wait, it was a co-op. That means all the artists are 'owners' and so your job is to go to long meetings. Aside from that it was cool and I met some great people. I made enough money to pay my monthly ownership fee. I quit the co-op when I was tired of meetings. 

Some more years passed of taking numerous art workshops and marketing courses, thrown in the mix of keeping a life together. Then I gave up on painting and tried again and gave up...ad nauseam. My art friends told me about a fabulous artist and teacher whose classes I must take. So I decided to not give up quite yet and signed up for one of David Slonim's workshops.  It's a two hour drive for me, but so worth it, because over the course of those next few months, art became my favorite thing again. 

I wanted to learn how to paint from my soul... to paint from within, with that certain freedom that comes with hard earned knowledge. Much like driving a car, you learn the rules of the road and then you are free to go pretty much anywhere. But without those rules, you can't drive. You could, but you'd likely end up in a wreck. Similarly, painting with freedom doesn't mean that you can just throw anything on the canvas and call it art. I'm talking about the kind of art that you produce consistently over the course of a life-long career. The kind of art that is worthy for people to want to live with in their homes (and who will spend a good chunk of money on). 

The 'rules of the road,' taught to me by David, are simple, yet so complicated it took me a couple of years before it all started to make sense. They are: The Elements and Principles of Design. The elements (our tools) are point, line, space, shape, value, color, and texture. The Principles (how we arrange the tools) are balance, order, rhythm, and unity. Learning this was invaluable to painting the way I do today...with freedom. That freedom was hard earned, and it never gets any easier to produce a good painting. Other artists will agree with me, but I wouldn't want any other job (well, maybe except being an astronaut). 

So, that is my art story: I was born with a desire to create and make things with my hands. Now I am doing just that.  I am happy you stuck around to read this and I'll continue to talk about art and art-related things in future blog posts. 

Check out my Instagram page to see weekly updates of paintings in progress. 

 

New Gallery!

This summer I joined another gallery, Caza Sikes in Cincinnati! I'm very excited to be able to work with the young and energetic Evan Sikes, who owns the gallery along with his father and brothers. They are located at 3078 Madison Road in Cincinnati. It's a great space; Evan and his father renovated an old paint store in the popular Oakley Square district. 

cazasikes.jpg

I love this logo. Evan explains: First, we wanted to pay a small bit of homage to our Mexican heritage. Before my grandmother passed away, she found out that my father and Vicente Fox (the former president of Mexico) are distant cousins. Since finding that out, we've had a few reunions with him in Cincinnati. His great-grandfather was from Cincinnati and migrated to Mexico. Secondly, we wanted to be welcoming, and we felt the word "gallery" can be intimidating. The word "caza" means "to hunt" (i.e. hunting for great artwork, etc.). The four heads represent myself, my father and two brothers, and if you look closely we all have different designs serving different purposes on our heads (my brother has a gavel since he's an auctioneer). It took us a few months to nail this down. 

Please visit Caza Sikes if you are in the Cinci area, or visit their website.