September 2016 Reimaging the New York Times (A Look at How My Images are Holding Up)

Attributable to their journalistic source, my paintings are rich in narrative content. The paired images have little relationship to each other in reality but a connection is suggested through structural similarity. The painting scale is large, up to 26 feet wide in the case of the Hope/Bomb. I like big subject matter that is monumental or momentous rather than intimate or everyday.

Heather Holden, Hope/Bomb, 2009, 96” x 288”, Neocolor and encaustic over gessoed birch

Heather Holden, Hope/Bomb, 2009, 96” x 288”, Neocolor and encaustic over gessoed birch

In Hope/Bomb the well-known Shepard Fairey image that Obama appropriated was central as his 2008 campaign material. Originally used as a street poster, Fairey forever fused Obama’s portrait and the word HOPE. Obama himself later had a version of the poster hung in the National Portrait Gallery as his first official POTUS portrait. My painted version consists of a New York Times photo of art handlers hoisting Fairey’s portrait onto the museum wall. Interspersed in three sections around the Obama portrait is a war photo of Iraq at the time with a bomb going off at the left. A big part of why it works is that the backgrounds which I painted verbatim to the original sources are the same even though one is a gallery and one is a war torn sky.

I first internalized my editing process using news sources in the 1980s, and although my images were from the vernacular they weren't specifically identifiable. Since then my editing process, or my specific way of reconnoitering two images, has not changed that much even with an evolution that has occurred over the years of subject matter and painting style.

By the 1990s I wanted a more specifically familiar image. I hypothesized that the more definite a grasp that the viewer had on an image's origin, the more radically those origins would appear to be altered in juxtaposition. And in doing so become more ardent, as if each could alter the course of the other to broaden cultural, environmental and political contexts. Or even to make each other go beyond the hopeless or impossible, beyond the personal or sensational. In hindsight it was far too romantic a proposal but romanticism as a genre still has its way with me.

At the time I wagered that the more specific the recognition of the image the more the re-contextualization might survive as the painting ages. Frozen within the moment in a painting they might live forever like a pop art image only they would be talking back as time went on. I thought that the more pervasive an image was at the time the more far-reaching an impact it might have on future events. Or the more chance that future events might impact it. Nothing terribly momentous has happened with any one painting yet but in smaller ways some have engaged very interestingly with the future.

A 1992 I juxtaposed an image of Richard Artschwager with a much smaller Vuillard painting. I blew up the Vuillard to make it equal in size to the larger-than-life-sized Artswchwager portrait creating structural relationships with the man/woman back and forth, the different  seating postures and the comparative patterns occuring in both images.

Heather Holden Richard Artschwager /Edouard Vuillard’s ‘Mother and Sister of the Artist’, 1992, 96” x 115”, Neocolor and encaustic on birch

Heather Holden Richard Artschwager /Edouard Vuillard’s ‘Mother and Sister of the Artist’, 1992, 96” x 115”, Neocolor and encaustic on birch

I was surprised that a decade later Artschwager did some riffing on similar Vuillard's in his last show at Gagosian before his death in 2013. Had this painting foretold his use of Vuillard? Maybe but perhaps only within the art world.

An early image of Hillary Clinton - an image more wide-ranging in popularity - appeared one day in the New York Times in 1993. As did a photo of Jackie Gleason appearing the same year.

Heather Holden , Jackie Gleason on Variety Hour/Hillary Rodham Clinton on Healthcare, 1993, 72” x 93”, Neocolor and encaustic on birch

Heather Holden , Jackie Gleason on Variety Hour/Hillary Rodham Clinton on Healthcare, 1993, 72” x 93”, Neocolor and encaustic on birch

In a diary at that time I noted the mood that the country was in as she went public with her healthcare reforms. It was a misogynist atmosphere that I thought was embodied by Gleason's obituary picture where he is shown in a similar checkered suit. It was my moment of foreshadowing - of Hillary's comeback - I even used the trump (Donald) word:

        “. . . In their effort to reach their respective audiences each seems engaged in a clear race to win over as many people as possible, contriving to look authoritative in their checkered outfits. Or is it a take on an unmanageable woman who needs to be put in her place by the Gleason, so effective in disparaging all women, and who was the reigning king of the dumb wife joke? Or are we hoping that Hillary may someday be possessed of the ability to trump or override this popular sacred cow of comedy?” Heather Holden 1993.

In a recent painting I paired the landscapes of two images: Deep Water Horizon oil spill with Charles Burchfield's painting titled Insect Chorus of 1917.

Heather Holden, Deep Water Horizon/Burchfield, 2012- 2016, 96” x 192” Neocolor and encaustic on gessoed birch

Heather Holden, Deep Water Horizon/Burchfield, 2012- 2016, 96” x 192” Neocolor and encaustic on gessoed birch

Both of the images appeared in the New York Times the same year, 2010. The disaster occurred half a year or so before Burchfield's Guggenheim retrospective. When I saw this particular Burchfield in that exhibition, using graphic conventions to disrupt his landscape, he seemed to call out to the roiling decline of the lilting oil rig's architecture and the surrounding sea. I was not surprised when the New York Times used that image in their review of the show. When I started the painting the pairing was more intellectual to me, I was thinking about the historic time of Burchfield where the relation of organisms one to another was quite a bit simpler than our energy obsessed era. Then what happened to me personally, hurricane Sandy flooding my studio, made me very obsessive about this painting and i couldn't stop reworking minute details of it for four years. I was digging out the details that coincided with my own trauma, prolonging the situation until I could recover.

I have little recognition of how these paintings will hold up ultimately to anyone else, they will take more objective eyes than I have. I do know that they are not red flag raising and/or will not cause any romantic red lines to be crossed, as I used to speculate. But their cultural, political nuances may offer someone else some interesting or diverting playback.