i'm all talk: A Senior Thesis Exhibition by Heather Grace (introduction)


Images courtesy of Heather Grace.

I want to speak about form and ways of displaying language as a function of thought in Heather's work. I think there's a temptation to describe her form and content as separate considerations, which I bring up because I struggled with this at first, but after talking with Heather and spending time with the work there are a couple of things I find really compelling about this show that I wanted to share.

Heather's paintings engage with certain key visual dynamics—cute/ugly, appealing/gross, accessible/weird—through a kind of gendered visual language: hot pink color schemes, lowercase and large lettering, words literally about being a girl in the world. There's a certain juvenile nature to the words and imagery—not naively so, but in the construction of relationships and contexts. For example, to place a rug here is to unify specific spaces, like this TV and these printouts. Within these contexts, how does the relationship between the juvenile and the sophisticated/informed play out? What’s the tension between, say, the gritty and decorative?

I'm interested in her uneasy use of technology, which both intervenes in and distances Heather's work. She describes herself as technologically illterate; to wit, this animated video is made of sixty-plus PowerPoint slides, which is as bizarrely old-school as it gets in our iMovie world. She's also spoken about how she's not at all a perfectionist, which is very fitting. Digital technologies enable perfectionism through tweaking and noodling, and are inherently flattening. You can hide layers, undo actions, create endless spaces. In contrast, these paintings are the products of physiological processes—even if you go in and paint over old shapes, they're present, both temporally and physically. So there’s a conversation between these different translations: between paint on cardboard, photo prints of physical layers, morphed texts and words printed on printer paper—a kind of dimensional expansion and collapse.

I'm interested in how this overwhelming world we live in is internalized and processed through Heather's work. How do you reconcile the amount and variety of so many different, fragmented thoughts in one space? Yet Heather's thoughts—the one-offs, the asides, the frustrations—do share a space, as well as unifying visual rhythms. It's tempting to call this Heather's-brain-as-show, some amorphous physical space where the "cloud of Heather" congeals in front of us. The closest to this might be this wall of collaged work taken directly from her studio, which is kind of a live space of artmaking. However, when Heather begins a painting, there's no endgame: each step just leads to the next step; a painting grows out of itself. Thus, I think the work we see today is form and content married by an ongoing chain of reactions: to react to the inputs of this overwhelming world by recording fragmented thoughts, to react to those words by articulating them in a visual space, to react while constructing visual forms anchored by these words.