Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MIND, MATTER, UNITY - Let's meet artist Heidi Thompson!

Heid Thmponn

"If painting were indeed such a vehicle, which can transform gross matter into finer substance and then, into a subtle substance which resonates with the mind, then it may be that painting could ultimately evoke those elusive spiritual sensations, which seem the finest of all. This would be an achievement. For if we transcend the solidity and diversity of our existences, we would merge into a unified field - experienced as love. And in this love, we would feel something of our spirit-soul, God or the Absolute. And the mystery of who we are, as individuals and as an undivided unity, would unveil."
- Heidi Thompson

1. When have you realized that being an Artist was going to be your path?

As long as I can remember, I enjoyed painting. However, I never believed that I could be an artist. My dad, a car salesman, used to tell me that artists starve.  At the time, I didn’t like the idea of starving. Despite getting A’s in high school art and C’s in math and science, I didn’t see that as a clue to my calling. I was a somewhat clueless teenager. 
The day after graduation, I moved to Switzerland intending to learn a trade - pastry making. For certain, I wouldn’t starve at that job.  Lucky for me, the pastry shop decided against female apprentices. I had to find another trade. 

My father said I could do anything I want but first, should learn a trade. I borrowed a book from the library in the small village where I lived. It listed off 2000 Swiss trades and professions. I narrowed down the list to - hairdresser or psychologist. 

Blue Veil 2007
Acrylic/Canvas 72"x48"
While trying to decide, I was still working as an Aupair for a Swiss family and painted in my spare time. The village librarian saw my artwork and recommended that I submit a portfolio to the Kunstgewerbeschule (art/trade school) in Zurich. It was a small miracle, but out of four hundred applicants I was one of 120 to be accepted.  My excitement overrode my fear of starving. I was too far from my father to heed his advice. I started art school and never questioned this decision. I loved school and my professors, who fostered my passion for art.  The day I chose starving over a comfortable future, was the day I realized art was my path.  

After the first year of Foundational art, I specialized in photography. Not that I wanted to be a photographer, but my sensible mind said it would be a great compromise.  After four years of training, I earned a Swiss Photography Diploma. Now that I had a trade, I earned the right (in my mind) to pursue fine art.  I moved to Germany and apprenticed with painter Oskar Koller.  Oskar taught me about composition, drawing and commitment.  He encouraged me to attend the art academy in Nurnberg.  I went for a year before moving to Budapest where I attended the Hungarian State University for Art. After another year of traditional painting classes, I felt confident with my formal education and returned to Canada. I set up a photography and painting studio in Vernon.  

I worked as a commercial photographer and painted in my spare time. I exhibited work in various galleries, but still felt that I wasn’t truly committed to art. I couldn’t stop thinking about what Oskar Koller’s said: “Heidi, you will never be a painter if you don’t paint. You will always find a hundred excuses not to paint. You have to make a decision then commit to the path. The beginning will be tough; there will be sacrifice and sorrow. But, there is no other way. If you keep taking photographs or earning a living with different jobs, you’ll never be a painter.” 

My struggle became easier when I married Ted, a guitar maker. We were two creative people who supported each other’s struggle. How could you ask for more?  I was very happy. We shared a common goal – to make the necessary sacrifices, save the necessary funds to remain independent, self-employed and creative.  Without this supportive partnership, I may have never been able to commit fully to painting later on. When I shut down my photography studio and started painting full time, was also when I became a mother. Staying home, living in a rustic house in the country, painting and caring for a child was ideal. Raising a daughter in a creative environment was a beautiful experience for all of us.

In summary – when it comes to committing to a path, I believe what Deepak Chopra says in Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, “Inherent in every intention and desire is the mechanics for its fulfillment…intention and desire in the field of pure potentiality have infinite organizing power. And when we introduce an intention in fertile ground of pure potentiality, we put this infinite organizing power to work for us.”

2. What inspires you or stimulates your thought? 

Beauty. Whether in art, life, people, or experiences. Beauty stimulates my thoughts; inspires my emotions and makes me want to be alive. When I see or hear something beautiful, knowing how much ugliness and discord exists in the world, I can’t help but think, wonder, and ponder. What is beauty? How can I create beauty? Why does it inspire? Beauty happens when I am in a heightened state of calmness and connected to my inner world. Beauty comes by chance and is fleeting. It is the greatest challenge to capture beauty in a painting. 

3. What is your average day like?

Blue Violet 2008
I love average days. I’ve experienced serious drama in the past and prefer average. I love to wake early. Enjoy coffee and discussion with my husband. Take a walk up the hills. Return to my studio, prepare a canvas and even paint something. Then have lunch. I may return to the studio or check emails, update my website, drive to town and do practical things like shopping. Later I may work on a speech for Toastmasters, which is my favorite hobby. In the evening, I cook a vegetarian dinner and enjoy further discussions with my husband. We may get a visit from our grown children or grandchildren. We often watch a movie. Then before bed, I may meditate. That’s what I call a good average day.

4. Why do you think it’s important to work as an artist? 

Painting makes me complete.  Painting helps me to make sense of life. Creating abstract images, organizing color and shapes on a surface, striving to create something I feel is harmonious or beautiful seems like a good use of my time. When I’m not painting, I start feeling dissatisfied and unproductive. These unpleasant feelings compel me to go back to the studio, confront the empty canvas and try again. German painter, Gerhard Richter wrote: “Painting things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense…“ I agree with Gerhard’s insights.   

For me, painting makes life seem worthwhile. But it is not the only thing that gives me this feeling. Being a mother and having a husband and family to love and care for also give me great fulfillment and sense of purpose. 

5. What kinds of story do you like the most? Why?

I love true life stories about people and their everyday struggles to overcome obstacles. Since joining Toastmasters I’ve had opportunity to hear many stories. I have grown to appreciate personal stories of everyday life.  I especially like humor.  

6. How has your practice changed over time? 

Over the years, my paintings have changed from dark to light; from sad to elated, from reactions to external environments to expressions of internal states. What hasn’t changed is relationship to painting. I have always stayed true to my vision and emotions.  Always painted what my feelings. While studying art in Europe, I was most interested in people, their suffering and their psychology. I did portraits and scenes. In Germany and Hungary I saw glimpses of a darker side of life which affected my work. I heard stories people’s long and difficult history. I heard about the war, political repression and people’s hardships. My work reflected the sadness I encountered and my sadness within.

Green Veil 2011
When I returned to Canada, my external world changed. I was surrounded by nature, beauty, and freedom. Darkness gradually vanished from my paintings. I stopped doing figurative work and focused on non-objective paintings filled with color, light, and joy. Since returning to Canada, I attended Vipassana meditation retreats and the more I meditated, the more my paintings changed. As I became healthier, calmer and more peaceful, so did my paintings. I am not saying this is how it should be – I value art about chaos, destruction and human suffering. I just didn’t have it in me to paint anymore. As I became increasingly connected with my inner world, my work grew less influenced by external environments. It was less reactionary and more actionary. As my inner world calmed down, so did my art.

7. Who’s your favourite Artist? How does this Artist inspire or mentor you? 

I was inspired by many artists. Turner’s abstract sunsets. Van Gogh’s celebration of nature and his psychological expression of colour. Pollack’s liberated application of house paint on large canvases. I appreciated the chaotic abstractions of the American expressionists. I fell in love with Rothko’s warm floating color fields. But ultimately, my favorite artist is Mark Tobey. The Pacific Northwest mystic was the forerunner of Pollack. What I like most about Tobey’s work is how it emanates a sense of calmness, order, intimacy and mystery. His delicate lines appear irrational, yet somehow transcend the logical mind and bring order to chaos. Perhaps I feel closest to his paintings, because he too practiced meditation.  Both his work and his writings reflect his inner journey and experience.

8. Specially in today's climate, there are many emerging artists looking for the kind of direction and passion that you, as a successful artist, clearly have, what kind of advice you will give to those who are also looking for the direction and path?

Today’s art climate needs to be examined, before accepting it or becoming part of it. There is a strange art bubble happening and I don’t buy into it.  My advice to aspiring artists is to learn as much as you can about yourself and art and never stop learning. Go to art school to learn about history and traditional drawing and painting. Seek out teachers who you admire – dead or alive. Read books written by other artists. Ask questions about why and how they did what they did. Master various techniques until you develop your own voice. Draw nature and develop a love connection and respect for her. In the end we are all part of nature. Most importantly, look inwardly, deeply and keep focused.  Find your truth – in a world of superficial distractions. Meditate and transcend your intellectual brain. The intellect brain will continue to interfere, confuse, mislead and prevent you from creating meaningful art. 

Another tip…stop wanting so much. Wanting for the wrong reasons –validation, fame, fortune, will prevent the universe from giving you what you really need to be happy, conscious and liberated. Unfortunately, as much as the Internet gives us opportunity to connect with the world, advertise our product and aggrandize our image, it can hinder our progress. It helps to maintain a certain anonymity and humility. 

Of course, internet will work for getting connected. I have some websites and Youtubes, but remember you are an artist and have a great vision to share. Why share prematurely? As well, it helps to restrain from comparing yourself with other artists – especially those perceived as “successful”. No one can be you – this is your advantage. Use it. Be you! Focus on improving your craft and honing your message. Visit other artists, galleries, fairs to learn about what others are doing. Then retreat into your world and do what is good.  Success is relative. I believe you are successful when you find your style, your vision, and your passion. Success is when your work and your path towards liberation and awareness is one and the same. If creating art helps you on this path – you have achieved success!

(great advice Heidi! Coincidently, we wrote a blog few days ago about getting involved with the Federation of Canadian Artists, through them, you will learn and improve so much. Reading from different books written by other artists is a great tip. It's the best way to download knowledge to your brain and even get inspired. 

Heidi, can you please help those emerging artists further by recommending a book or two in the comment section below.)

9. In your opinion, what role is the Artist playing nowadays? 

I can’t speak about other artists and what roles they are playing. I have no idea. Every artist is unique and on their individual path. I can only speak for myself and I don’t think that I am playing a role.

Painting is to hard to have time to play a role. I just carry on pursuing an activity that gives me pleasure and purpose.

10. What is your 5 year goal? 

Go deeper into myself, experience Truth and try to paint beautiful paintings. This is today’s goal, tomorrow’s, next year’s, five years from now and unless I change, it will be my goal for the rest of my life. Now I better get on with it!


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Next Artist Interview. Stay tuned!

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