Heather Betts is an artist that does not fight fate. The unknown is her life companion and they walk hand in hand with the undeniable knowledge that all will be well. Oh what we would give to be this evolved. Heather lives literally and figuratively in her paintings and sculptures. She is a down-to-earth being that draws energy from her quest to find truth in figures. Classical music, Socrates and Picasso act as powerful guides in Heather’s life as she dives into the depths of existentialism through her deep textural art. This Australian-born Berlin-based artist is the truth!
See the interview below.
“I like to tune in to their logic, their emotions and intentions in their …”
Please tell us a little about yourself – your childhood, siblings, where you grew up, what you liked as a child, strange thoughts as a child/now, unique attributes, where you live now, etc.?
I grew up in Sydney, Australia and I have been living in Berlin, Germany for 30 years. I now divide my time between Melbourne and Berlin. One of four children, my childhood was stimulating and I was free to invent and observe. We all played instruments although drawing was always my main pastime. As a child I enjoyed finding faces in my environment, noticing extraordinary expressions and characters in cloud formations, drapery folds, carpet prints, wall texture, whatever. This hasn’t left me. Also, I know that the way I now use color in my work comes from memories as a child of strong sunlight and vivid colors.
What does your art mean to you?
My art is a way that I communicate with myself. Through painting and sculpture I can better understand the nature of the big questions in human life, now, before and beyond, emotion, connection, relationship, evolution, instinct. I explore these themes through events and stories. Then emerges cycles of paintings based on personal experience, opera librettos, mythology, history and literature. I have been described as a figurative expressionist; the figure is central to my work but what I am after is the truth of a figure or face that a camera will never capture. I want to see not through a lens, not even the lens of an eye, but rather through one’s gut response and then to find a familiarity there. I think that the role of the arts is as a projected platform on which to make sense of these bigger questions and challenges of living, which otherwise can be too close to process. It makes it safe to go near these issues when they in an art form and yet they are also then able to be more potent, more precise.
Your style incorporates various textures and sometimes you actually dabble in sculpting – how do you describe your form of art, what tools do you use for the creation of your work and how did you create your personal style?
I have always been relatively traditional with my approach to materials and format, that is to say, I am primarily a painter. Sometimes sculpture, rarely installation and never video. I need to be in it physically and get dirty. My materials are about touching and forming an image. Leaving fingerprints on the surface, and having charcoal under my nails. I therefore often handpaint but then I use gloves. Occasionally I might use a brush or incorporate other materials into the surface of my works; textile, hair, sand, collage, even metal. I like materials and how they feel, what they may signify and or symbolize. For example, I like to incorporate sand onto the canvas because it “earths” my figures, which have a tendency to float off the top of the canvas. Also x-rays, apart from providing a beautiful translucent blue to the color, offer an indication of what we know is there but don’t usually see and they are also packed with associations. I love lace, metal, and hair as well. I would say my style is a combination of my love to draw in charcoal or oil, the building of layers of color/texture/materials, and the spontaneous abandon of gesture.
Where do you get inspiration from?
Mostly from the vibrant electric power of imagining colors thrown together, the thrill of the action itself and from the empathy I feel for characters in the stories I work with. I like to tune in to their logic, their emotions and intentions in their given circumstance. I am fascinated by the fact that in all time, in all places, what drives us all doesn’t change much. We can therefore relate to Socrates, Salome or Hamlet as we can our own friends or family. I imagine what it is these characters are experiencing or with whom and then I start to translate it into my work. The other major inspiration for my work comes directly from classical music, a continual backdrop and force behind my whole working process.
What is the worst critique you have ever received about your work? What is the best compliment that you have received about your work?
Curiously the same comment answers both these questions! I once overheard a woman say at an opening of one of my exhibitions that her 4 year old son could have painted that. She meant it derogatively of course but I agree with Picasso who is supposed to have said that he spent his whole life trying to emulate the direct and uncorrupted expression of a 4 year old child. So I took it as a tremendous compliment.
Which artist/s or sculptor/s do you look up to the most?
Mostly the figures in history that with good reason populate our art history texts. Any artist who approaches his or her work with rigor and honesty has my attention. I am less admiring of art which has been created solely for marketing, controversy or without integrity.
Since Style.No.Chaser is a men’s lifestyle magazine, what attributes/items/clothing /etc. do you think define a man?
A great quote from Hamlet and the title of a major painting of mine is “What is a man?” !! He goes on to ask basically why am I born a man and not a beast? What differentiates me? And the answer is the freedom to decide, to make considered decisions. So what does that offer a man in 2015 reading your magazine? That one has the freedom to be individual and make one’s own decisions without toeing a pre-prescribed line. There are so many fads and modes of thought that come and go; not following them can be as contrived as following them. So in the end you are left with yourself, what you like, how you feel and what makes you a good person.
Someone who can embrace the full richness of weaknesses and strengths in himself and in others defines a man for me – and a woman for that matter. Items, clothing and accessories less so but they are still very necessary because they are symbolic for a sense of connection in all time in all cultures as well as the fact that they are just great fun.
What is your personal life philosophy?
Faith in fate. That no matter how crappy things can get there will always be a point in time when one looks back and says “Ah, so that’s why!” That we are here for a short while, so make the most of it, it is a privilege and it matters. The poet Michael Leunig says love one another and you shall be happy, it is as simple and difficult as that.
Who dead or alive, celebrity or not, artist or not, would you like to go on a two week road trip with and why?
Rupert Sheldrake. He is a British biologist and the proponent of the theory of morphic resonance, which to me makes perfect sense and I’d like to trap him for a good two week spell to pick his brains. I would also like to travel with Socrates too but only for a few days max.
What is your favorite movie and why?
That question is too hard.
When was your most recent art epiphany and what was it about?
Once my mother looked at what I do and asked “what’s the matter?”. I replied that if I didn’t do that work something would be the matter. Recently something was the matter and I realized that in bending to other pressures I wasn’t doing the work I needed to do.
How can people learn more about your current and upcoming works?
My website: www.heatherbetts.net
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