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Unmarked: Broken Symmetries

The abstract painter Heidi Locher presents her portraits of the human soul at the Rod Barton Gallery

Since completing her MA in fine art at St Martins in 2006 Heidi Locher has been slowly been carving quite a name for herself with gooey, visceral, acrylic abstractions that almost explode upon the canvas before your eyes. Marrying the aesthetic of the rebel abstractionists of the 20th century with the figurative nuances of Matisse and the intense violence of Bacon, her latest exhibition Unmarked: Broken Symmetries presents two very different ideas of personhood in paralell, with the stark contradictions that exist between the two drawing each to the essential element of the other. On a cold November evening, we visited her studio to talk about constructing the frail architecture of identity...

Dazed Digital: They’re very wild and explosive paintings, How do you create them?
Heidi Locher:
 I like to get into the studio and get absolutely locked-down and focus for ten hours or so. It’s a really emotional experience for me. I think painting like this should be like when you spot someone you fancy across a room – it should really take your breath away. It should be that ignition of something; that feeling you get when you don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but you know it’s something big.

DD: I have heard that you don’t like to talk about the meaning of your work, but I was thinking it might be interesting to talk about what drives you?
 I think it’s physical actually, there is a sort of drive to go to it, and there are always lots of sorts of little narratives rolling around in my head and thoughts and sketches, and things I pull out of magazines. Usually, there are emotional things going on, and there are political things, and these two go side-by-side. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how you might make a portrait that isn’t a portrait, and how you might show that inner struggle?

DD: So these are like portraits of your emotional turmoil?
 Yes, and there is everything in there – there is tension and difficulty as well as harmony and serenity. I think the really full portraits are interesting when you view them with the other much emptier faces. They ask questions like are we full or are we empty, and are we marked in some way? I think as a woman there are notions of being marked, or of being noticed or not being noticed. It’s all of those things.

DD: Do you think this kind of abstraction is still a valid form at the beginning of the 21st century?
 Absolutely, because I think in this kind of physical painting, for me anyway, it’s almost like I’m the paint – it’s a performance. It’s not a performance that anybody else sees, but it is my performance, and that’s very important to me. It’s a mark in the sand. It’s like having that wonderful conversation with somebody because you happen to be there on that walk, or making love – it’s that moment. I love those times where you are absolutely in the moment, and they are so hard to grab because life comes at you so many other ways.

DD: So the full canvasses here are like self-portraits, but the emptier ones are more something for the viewer to project themselves into?
 Exactly. I’m very interested in parallel thought when I’m working. I’m always thinking about flip-sides of things – what does that mean, where might that lead me – so that I can try and surprise myself. And I just love the paint; it is a kind of liquid flesh.

DD: So who would you say has most inspired you as a painter?
 Well, I think early on it was people like Susan Rothenberg, who I absolutely love, but I do love Francis Bacon. De Kooning I used to absolutely love, but I feel like my eyes are too full up of him now, I know it too well in a way. I also love Katherine Dumas, because she sort of lets the chaos in. I think that’s always interesting – whether you edit or you don’t edit. I think these paintings too are an exploration of that as well. For me, it’s important not to edit, and just to to allow it all out, because  then I feel I might be finding something, a kernel of truth. In real life, you endlessly edit – what you wear, what you look like, what you think, what you do – so I love it in the studio. It’s a sort of sanctuary in here really. You are able to do everything and put everything into it in that moment.

DD: The sense of seeking is kind of the end product in itself?
 Absolutely, but it’s all always around a narrative that has been rolling around in my head for a few months, and then there’s suddenly a moment when I jump off the cliff and I don’t quite know when that’s going to be. There is a sort of bravery where I just sort of go to canvas – I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking, I’ve been thinking… and then I go to it.

DD: So it’s like a leap of faith?
 Yes, and it has to be a sort of brave thing, it can’t be too mapped out. I have to allow myself lots of ideas around it, lots of thoughts, then I can explore them within it's frame.

DD: What do you think of Andre Gide’s notion that as society becomes more ugly, art will become more abstract?
 I think that’s an amazing quote and I wish I knew more about it. It’s fantastic. I think that’s right. The things that I tore out of magazines were blindfolded soldiers and wounded people, and I think on one hand we have increased celebrity and increased war and we do have this sense that the world is in chaos. I think that is absolutely right. There is no way of showing that in a realistic way – our eyes are too used to the images, we need to be shown things in a different way for them to have resonance. I’m hoping that these paintings have the big stuff, the big ideas and the tiny details as well. I’m not very interested in the middle ground but I’ve always been interested in the big idea and the tiny detail, so I’m hoping there is a nuance of emotion in there – there might be a tenderness or a fearfulness or whatever... an aggressiveness, a tension where you can see those little things.

DD: Do you think that, between birth and death, we are in a random state of chaos?
 Yes, and I think it’s foolish of us to do try and do anything about that. When I was younger, I assumed that if I could design everything beautifully and control everything beautifully then my world would be okay, but actually, now I know it just keeps on coming, and that’s what makes it so difficult to live in the world, but also what makes it so sensational to live in the world, in any one breath.

Unmarked:Broken Symmetries opens tonight at The Rod Barton Gallery, One Paget Street, London, EC1
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