Monday, January 8, 2018

Jeanne Heifetz Answers:

Thank you to Jeanne for answering some of my questions. I love the materiality and mapping quality of this new work. 

Pre-Occupied 66

graphite on flax paper tinted with iron oxide
x 29

 Pre-Occupied 76
graphite on flax paper sized with persimmon juice 
29 x 21

Pre-Occupied 18  
silver graphite on flax paper tinted with iron oxide
21 x 29

Pre-Occupied 12
silver graphite on Indian sunn hemp paper
13 x 17

What inspires you?
The series I’ve been working on for the past two years, “Pre-Occupied,” was inspired by Doris Salcedo’s retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2015. Up to that point my work had been very process-based, but Salcedo made me wonder whether artists have an obligation to make work about things that frighten us.

Pre-Occupied statement:
In this series, I challenged myself to confront something that terrifies me.
I have had death panics since I was eight years old. Ironically, the only real estate I am ever likely to own is a parcel of eight cemetery plots I inherited from my grandfather. The deed to the plots came with a map of the cemetery, which seemed like the logical place to begin to address my fear. Each drawing in this series is based on the map of a different Jewish cemetery, including the ones where my own relatives are buried. (I am not religious, but the historical and familial connection was important: these are all places I could be buried, even though I remain completely unreconciled to the idea of my own death.)
I can’t claim that drawing the maps allays my panic. Death remains entirely unknowable terrain: the map can never be the territory. And yet, stripped of identifying text, the cemeteries’ abstract forms are mysteriously compelling, grounding me in the universal human drive to create beauty, order, and ritual in the face of our own mortality.

Doris Salcedo, “1550 Chairs Stacked Between Two City Buildings” Istanbul Biennial, 2003

I don’t think of my work as political, as Salcedo’s clearly is. Yet after the 2016 election, as my husband and I started pulling together our passport applications, I began thinking about what it means to flee a country and leave your dead behind, exposed and vulnerable. In Europe during and after the war, Jewish headstones were pulled up and used as the foundations of houses or as flagstones in patios and roadways. I also started thinking about the way we can carry our dead with us, and the way the remnants of the destroyed shtetls of Eastern Europe can be found in American cemeteries: you can trace our ancestral villages in the names of the burial societies. So while many of us have been asking ourselves how to respond to the current political moment in our work, I found my work connected to that moment in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

What is your personal history?
I grew up in an apartment on the Upper West Side of New York City and considered the Met my playground. I knew the layout of the museum by heart. I loved the children’s wing with the diorama of the medieval workshop, the interactive color wheel, and the film of how egg tempera is made (the current version of the children’s wing is completely sterile by comparison). I still have the tiny books I got there as a child: How to Look at Paintings and How to Look at Sculpture. But I never imagined myself becoming an artist. My high school’s art program was pretty tepid: I could swear we drew the same still life every year. I can still close my eyes and see that spider plant. But something else happened in those years. Our school librarian was also a dance critic, and she taught an afterschool class in dance appreciation. I got hooked. In that era, you could get tickets to New York City Ballet for $4 or $5 (in the highest tier of the theatre – but if you spotted an empty seat below you could claim it during the intermission). I did that about three times a week, and I think my education in pattern and structure and visual rhythm as well as my interest in light and shadow and playing with translucency and scrims came from watching Balanchine ballets (not to mention Karinska’s costumes and Jennifer Tipton’s lighting). I never had any formal art training. I have two degrees in English, and a background in weaving, which I learned in a summer course at 14 and did professionally for years. Eventually I moved from making functional work on the loom to making sculptural work using textile techniques with non-traditional materials (wire and glass) to drawing on stone with powdered metals mixed with cold wax, to drawing on paper.

I Would Have Remembered That 13
ink on handmade abaca paper
11 x 14

 Geometry of Hope: Cobalt, Emerald
acid-etched glass rods, coated copper wire, coated silver wire, stainless-steel mesh.
20” x 20”

Tourmaline Curve
acid-etched glass, silver wire
6.5” x 13” (depth variable)


Creatives in your ancestry who might have influenced you?
 My parents met at the High School of Music & Art, but both of them were musicians. My mother worked in cultural and educational exchange for the State Department, but she also took classes at the Art Students’ League. Her grandfather had been a goldsmith who made beautiful Art Nouveau jewelry with a lot of delicate filigree and repoussé work. I guess if there’s a gene for doing detailed work on a tiny scale I inherited it from him. My mother’s best friend from high school was the Israeli painter Nora Frenkel, whose work filled the apartment I grew up in. My father was passionate about photography, and taught it out of our apartment. We had a darkroom at home where he (and later I) developed both color and black-and-white film and prints.

Nora self-portrait 1995

Saki-Ori: Indigo, Logwood
tussah silk hand-dyed with indigo, fustic, catechu, logwood.
63 x 36

Name 5 favorite artists that turn you on…and why?
That’s a tough one. I keep a spreadsheet of artists whose work I admire (and share on Facebook) and it’s got almost 900 names on it. But I also have keywords on the spreadsheet to help me remember each artist’s work, and some of the most frequent keywords are “obsessive,” “cellular,” “biomorphic,” “mapping,” “accretion,” “layering,” and “installation.” So that gives you an idea of what floats my boat.

 studio bulletin board
 studio bulletin board
"tape wall" (tape used to mask out areas of drawing). 

Studio Shot

Jeanne's Website