by Vatsala SethiSep 21, 2022
If one attempts to trace the one theme in the art history that has been a consistent favourite among the artists, without much contestation, the idyllic nature embodied in the garden would meet the consensus. The garden punctuated with harmony, beauty, perfection has made it popular amongst the creative minds to repeatedly go back to it as a theme to be explored through arts. The American artist Erik Madigan Heck’s latest exhibition, The Garden, at the Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta, opens a window to his personal life: wife, children and home. The exhibition along with these ‘hyper-personal’ works gives a glimpse into the world of the artist’s aesthetic pursuits — the interplay of vibrant colours and reimagined classical landscapes.
In the times when we are inundated with the works of photography, Heck’s painterly large-scale photographs dawn a fresh breath of life that expressively carry a hint of the film's mise-en-scène. This is the second time Jackson Fine Art is having Heck’s work on display, the first exhibition entitled Old Future was held in 2018. The current exhibition was composed over a period of five years that features the photographs of two significant events in his personal life: the birth of two sons and the passing away of his mother.
Talking about nature as a quintessential feature of his works, Heck in an interview with STIR, declares, “Nature is, and always has been, the main source of inspiration for most of my works, through the colour of what I create on top of the initial photograph, and by highlighting nature’s own magnificence as the backdrop for many of my works. I often prefer to shoot landscapes, but even when I do shoot studio imagery, I try to borrow patterns and colours I have seen from nature”.
The works in the series The Garden borrow inspiration from the innocence and purity of the Catholic iconography and mythical pictorial traditions. The vibrant colours of the works blur the lines between the paintings and photographs in an effort to articulate the “processes of dissolution and rebirth”. Heck traces his tryst with the art to his days of painting with his mother, “I grew up painting first, with my mother. She was a painter. I always wanted to be a painter, but was never as technically proficient with a brush”.
He further elaborates on the techniques of experimenting with elements of painting and photography, “So eventually I was able to recreate the process of painting with photography, by layering colour on top of my images, and building them up like canvases - the process of how I create my photographs is akin to painting - where the initial image is the canvas, and as I build colour on top of the image it becomes the final work”.
As a fashion photographer, Heck’s work is regularly featured in the magazines including The New York Times, TIME, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Harper's Bazaar, to name a few. The photographs of his wife Brianna Killion and son first published on the cover of TIME was aptly entitled Behind the Goddess Myth. The artist places these photographs in the art historical context that draw references from “Madonna and Child”. So, does his approach vary when he captures the intimate moments shared between the family members and the subjects of his fashion photography? Heck expounds, “They didn’t necessarily differ in the technical approach, but they were obviously more intimate at first because they were of my wife and children. I see them, though as one, the same, as eventually my family becomes objects in an environment - statues in nature, not unlike my fashion work”.
The images by Heck take on the liminal space bordering on the two worlds - familiar as well as fantastical. The figures and settings flawlessly flow into each other to recreate the world saturated with a pristine newness of the first garden of Eden peppered by “dreamlike poignancy”. An evocation to the prelapsarian times, Heck with his works strives to draw home the point, “That life is beautiful, and we should celebrate the inherent beauty in what surrounds us - in nature, in family, and in art”.
The exhibition The Garden by Erik Madigan Heck runs at Jackson Fine Art until January 23, 2021.