Heidi Thompson was born in Vernon, Canada. After graduating high school she moved to Europe to study. Her extensive education includes a degree in photography from the University of Art & Design in Zürich; an apprenticeship with painter Oskar Koller; a year at the Akademie der Buildene Künste Nürnberg and some time at the Hungarian State University for Fine Art. The artist has a lasting interest in meditation and the expression of truth, mind, matter, energy and space. We catch up with Heidi to find out more about her process and the philosophy underlying her awe-inspiring art.
What artwork/project are you most proud of and why?
The most rewarding experience in my career happened a few weeks ago. I was exhibiting a series of paintings entitled ‘The Light Within You’ at the Vernon Art Gallery.
I received an email from someone who had seen the show. He wrote, “Stepping out of the car carefully making our way across all that thick ice in the gutter in front of the Gallery, we ventured into the illuminated display of your work... it was like walking into a realm of peace and tranquility. We stood all alone in this room... overcome with awe and a sudden calmness of spirit. Perhaps we did time it right coming then, because we were able to be truly alone with your works... alone... surrounded only by their presence... which ignited... a light within us.” The viewer’s response was my ultimate reward. My greatest hope is to make paintings that facilitate peacefulness, joy, and awe.
Your process is highly energetic, physical, is this aspect of your practice important to the final aesthetic?
My paintings appear energetic with their vibrating colours, moving fragments and pulsating fields of patterns and lines. However, their movement has less to do with my physical actions and more to do with the techniques I use.
My multicolours are created by layering fluid acrylic paint, drying areas and then washing away wet paint. This results in a patina. Though the image is non-representational it often resembles a natural phenomenon like a blazing sunset or glowing fire. In contrast, my monochromes use a technique similar to mandala sand painting. I load a small fan brush with paint and tap it with a stick until the canvas is covered with a woven tapestry of delicate lines, flecks, and dots. From a distance, the elements melt together into a unified, vibrating field of colour. My monochromes best express my reality, specifically the reality I feel via sensations. Both techniques express my inner reality of change.
Generally, I am quite still when I paint. I stand, gaze, dribble or tap. I am far from an action painter! What is most important is to be still within. Being centered and calm contributes to creating paintings that are energized, uplifting and peaceful.
How do you know when one of your paintings is finished?
A painting is finished when everything comes together and feels right. ‘Everything’ includes its color, composition, technique, and the emotion it evokes. What I also look for is how spontaneous the painting appears. I want it to look like it was simply a beautiful accident – not touched by a human hand. Painter, Botticelli stated, “…just by throwing a sponge soaked with various colors against a wall to make a stain, one can find a beautiful landscape.” Inspired by his observations, I pour paint over a canvas hoping the colours will collide and create something mystical and magnificent. (Though, this doesn’t always happen). Over the years, my feeling of what is ‘right’ changes, perhaps because I am developing different aesthetic sensibilities.
Which artists (or musicians, authors or genres) have been influential in your work?
While studying in Europe I admired expressionists, impressionists and mystics including Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Kollwitz, Munch, Monet, Klee, Kandinsky Kline and philosophers like Blavatsky. They all seemed to be searching for Truth. After returning to Canada I was inspired by abstract expressionists especially Pollack and Rothko.
My greatest influence, however, did not come from artists, musicians or authors, rather from Vipassana. This meditation technique requires one to observe sensations in the body and gain insights from these observations. The more I practiced, the less interested I was in expressing external, apparent reality – landscapes, politics, concepts or 'realistic' and representational things. I wanted to express my reality, the ever-changing molecular organism that I am.
I started painting monochromes which best expressed my reality of mind and energy. The multicolour paintings, as well, express the eternal flux of mind and matter felt within. In my search for ways to express reality, I discovered the art of Mark Tobey. For me, Tobey’s abstractions (which evolved out of his meditation practice) express truths about mind, matter, movement, energy and space – themes which resonate with my reality.
Finally, if you could own any artwork by any artist - past or present - what would it be and why?
I would love a painting by Mark Tobey – like Trembling Space or Canticle. Having one of his creations would give me great comfort. It would be like being in the company of a friend who deeply understands you.