Step Inside Artist Angela Heisch’s Airy Brooklyn Studio, Where Vaulted Ceilings Led Her to ‘Scale Up’ Her Enigmatic Compositions

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New Zealand-born artist Angela Heisch (b. 1989) is having nothing short of a major year. Known for her alluring paintings of enigmatic, biomorphic forms, Heisch recently opened her London solo show “Low Speed Highs” at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery last week, her second solo in the U.K. capital. Now she is back immersing herself in her Brooklyn studio as she prepares for a solo show with New York’s Grimm Gallery this September. Just this past March, Heisch achieved a new auction record at a Phillips London sale, when her work (2019-2020) sold for $90,974 (with fees) nearly 154 percent more than the presale estimate.

The art market breakout star, who received an MFA from the University at Albany in 2014, has previously had solo exhibitions in Amsterdam, New York, and Montreal. Her enigmatic paintings and drawings are rooted in abstraction, but they often take on architectural and biomorphic forms, which she meticulously structures. Heisch applies pigment to luminous, eye-catching effect. Her latest London exhibition, which is on view through April 29, features a new body of paintings and pastel works on paper, some of which are in the largest scale she has worked on. The abstract forms and compositions are derived from landscapes.

Her studio is located in four-story building in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, and is home to many other artist studios. Recently, the artist welcomed Artnet News on a tour of her studio and discussed her creative process.

Angela Heisch in her studio. Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Photo: Matthew Herrmann © Angela Heisch

Angela Heisch’s studio. Courtesy the artist and Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Photo:
Matthew Herrmann © Angela Heisch

What is the first thing you do when you walk into your studio (after turning on the lights)?

The first thing I do is fill up my water jug and get changed. I get into painting as soon as I’m in the studio, unless it’s a drawing day, in which case I’ll start working on pastels.

What made you choose this particular studio over others?

The bathrooms have toilet paper, there’s heat, nice lighting and no leaks in the ceilings—all things that aren’t guaranteed in studio buildings, so I feel lucky in that department. I also like that this studio doesn’t have much direct sunlight, which can get in the way of painting.

What are you working on right now? Please send us a few smartphone shots of a work in progress—or photos of different works in various states of completion—in a way that you think will provide insight into your process.

I just finished my show “Low Speed Highs” for Pippy Houldsworth, and am finishing the first few pieces for my solo show in New York with Grimm this September. I have about four paintings in progress at a time, that way I can rotate working on each one while I wait for paint to dry, so the first four paintings for the show in September are now in different stages of completion.

Angela Heisch's studio snap. Courtesy the artist.

Angela Heisch’s studio snap. Courtesy the artist.

How do you know when an artwork you are working on is clicking? How do you know when an artwork you are working on is a dud?

The larger paintings are planned out before hand in pastel drawings, so I know generically how they will turn out. In the past I’ve rushed to start a painting based on a pastel drawing, only to realize the composition really doesn’t work beyond it’s pastel form. I like the paintings to deviate from the pastels a bit, but usually when I’m fiddling with the composition too much on the canvas I’ll know the painting isn’t likely going to turn out successfully and I’ll scrap it. I don’t fully know if a painting is clicking until the very end, and then honestly I’m so tired of looking at it, I can’t even tell. With some time spent away it becomes clear which ones have worked out better than others.

What tool or art supply do you enjoy working with the most, and why? Please send us a snap of it.

I really love working with cold wax medium. I use it in the last few layers of the painting and enjoy the satin-matte finish it gives the paintings. It’s also a great way to build transparent layers and texture because it sets relatively quickly.

Angela Heisch's studio snap of a work in progress which was created for the London exhibition at Pippy Houldsworth. Courtesy the artist.

Angela Heisch’s studio snap of a work in progress which was created for the London exhibition at Pippy Houldsworth. Courtesy the artist.

How does your studio environment influence the way you work?

I used to have a studio in the basement of our apartment and the space had lots of exposed brick and archways. Looking back, the work I was making at the time had a similar architecture. My current space has much taller ceilings and feels airy and I think this has made the work lighter and more dynamic. The larger space I’m in now has led me to scale up the paintings too.

I’ve always liked working in the daytime, and have found that regardless of where my studio is I stick to regular hours—I like to finish the day no later then 7pm, and since the studio is so solitary I like being there when other people are in the building.

When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get unstuck?

When I get stuck it’s usually because I’m getting ahead of myself. Sometimes new ideas don’t feel so connected to the work I’m making, and when those ideas don’t pan out it’s easy to feel completely lost, especially in working with abstraction. When this happens I remind myself to take a step back and reflect more on where the current work can go next. There’s a natural evolution that happens, and trusting in that is an important practice of mine. When the work starts to look a little too self referential and I feel like I’m recycling old ideas too often, I’ll try to go see some shows and take a break from my own work—luckily there’s lots of other art to see in New York to get me out of creative ruts.

Studio shot of Angela Heisch's <i>Rolled Up Hills</i>. Courtesy of the artist.

Studio shot of Angela Heisch’s Rolled Up Hills. Courtesy of the artist.

What is the fanciest item in your studio? The most humble?

Probably some paint, my air purifier, and Nespresso machine, and basically everything else is stuff I found for very cheap or in the trash.

How many hours do you typically spend in the studio, what time of day do you feel most productive, and what activities fill the majority of that time?

I spend 8 to 10 hours a day in the studio, and am making an effort to take weekends off to relax. I feel most productive in the late morning, right before lunch, but that changes from day to day. I don’t really do anything in the studio besides painting and drawing. Emails etc. are usually done at home. I have books in the studio I look at for inspiration, but I take those home to look through and reflect on. Studio painting time feels very precious, so I like to make the most of it.

What’s the last thing you do before you leave the studio at the end of the day (besides turning off the lights)?

I clean up my palette a bit and wash brushes and dishes. I might clean up a little especially if there’s lots of pastel dust on the floor.

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