Entrevista a Howard Hersh por Mirjana Milosavljević

Artist Howard Hersh
Interviewed by Mirjana Milosavljević
[Myra Muse]

Howard Hersh was born in 1948 in Los Angeles. He currently lives and works in San Francisco. His paintings are about art, geometry and the strength that it takes to thrive. Howard art is a gate, the place where energy, colors, forms, matter and space are connected. Looking at Howard’s paintings I try to capture and translate a mood within his work based on limitless horizons and the ethereal qualities of light affecting silky surface and suggestive form.

Howard Hersh – Artworks ►Waves

LYNETTE HAGGARD: “When Howard Hersh sets out to make a painting, the process is in motion long before he melts the pigment and wax. After over 25 years of creating artwork, his subconscious has become a vast subliminal repository of references, perceptions and sensibilities. As he works, he taps into this, following intuition, memories, and imagination, and so the painting begins.

Hersh considers it critical to his creative practice that he spends time in his studio daily. Whether or not he picks up a brush to paint, or a pan to pour—he spends time there, living with his work and the process of making his art. Following his passion, this time spent in the studio contributes to a lifestyle of total immersion. This habit supports Hersh’s ability to have strong vision and awareness as he works. Referring to nature “his dominant muse” this influence is intrinsic to his work. He recalls spending early childhood years playing in the woods, camping with his family, and later, being part of the “back to the land” movement of the 1960’s. Hersh describes these events as having profoundly impacted his psyche and being inherent to his identity. These earliest childhood experiences inform his work today.

A self-professed non-academic artist, Hersh downplays the importance of historical context but values his current connections to life, nature, and the world around him. He views each body of work as a continuum—that which was created last year and yesterday is connected to the work he creates today. As he works on an individual painting, each piece takes on a life of its own.

Because encaustic has no drying time, he prefers to work on one piece at a time. The exception would be when he becomes stumped on a painting, at which point he may decide to start another one—until he can figure out what’s required with the stalled piece.

Putting down the paint, pouring the wax, making marks, choosing color, and making decisions while working to resolve the painting is a very fluid process. Says Hersh: “Each painting initiates a dialogue with me. Sometimes this is a quick and easy process, and sometimes it’s a downright struggle. As the painting develops, some questions are answered and some new ones appear. This is the process of creativity for me.”

1. Mirjana: Some of the most interesting stories related to an artist’s life are stories about their beginnings and life in general... Howard, tell me something about your life, a childhood, the educational background? Do you think that your art could reflect your childhood experience/experiences at all? If so, how?

Howard: I think that the most significant part of my childhood was from ages three to nine. In those years we lived in a neighborhood surrounded by forest. There were many children and we all played in the woods, every day. Given that Nature is my main muse now, I would say that my childhood experiences have most definitely helped form my Art. Later, from ages ten to fifteen, there were many camping trips and visits to Museums. These activities broadened my appreciation for the beauty of nature.

2. Mirjana: Is there a separation between your "normal" life and your work. If so, how do you manage to keep each in its place?

Howard: For me, the terms Art, Life, and Work are interchangeable. But all are necessary to each other too.

3. Mirjana: Most of artists strive to educate themselves about culture, art, history and society, but this education is not necessarily formal. You can learn just as much in a public library, as you can in a degree program - lots of time, it’s all about dedication to learning. Do you believe in the "artist class?" In other words, what do you think of the idea that artists are in a higher class because they have a relationship with the academic world, when the majority of artists struggle financially?

Howard: The idea of any kind of class, goes against everything I believe. Class is a way of separating people; again, a bad move. I think artists are perceived to be so different, not because of academic relationships, but rather our interests are in the esoteric. This not where most people dwell. Artists lack of attention to the material world is probably also a good explanation for our financial struggles.

4. Mirjana: Due to the subjective nature of art, it is understandable that there is usually an element of the personal in the creative process. Can you ever completely remove yourself from your art, or have you ever wanted to?

Howard: The Art of Life / The Life of Art... I would think that I’m leaving a personal trail, my signature, in all of my works. However, I think that my paintings have enough life of their own that people would not think too much about the creator.

5. Mirjana: Where do your ideas come from? What are your methods of visualization? Would you tell me about your creative process and how does the process of creating an art object begin?

Howard: I have always worked in a serial fashion. That is, one work blends into another by way of ideas, techniques, and style. Therefore, I don’t create a new painting each time from scratch. I’m continuing on from the last piece, twisting and turning, exploring a range of things. I do make major changes periodically, but even that is an organic process that builds over time.

6. Mirjana: Do you tend to relate more strongly to abstraction or to more literal representation (realism), and do you feel there is a qualitative difference between the two? Has your preference ever shifted?

Howard: I clearly favor abstraction, because that is where the artists perception is revealed. How an artist interprets and feels is what their work will show. I will say though that I draw from the figure regularly and thoroughly enjoy it also.

7. Mirjana: Where did the idea to create “Waves & Particles” series arise from? One of my favorite images is “Details” - what was your thought process behind this?

Howard: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? (Waves & particles or my paintings). Waves & Particles became a series when I realized that title summarized my view of nature and therefore art as well. It expresses it so well, that I’ve used the title 53 times so far.

8. Mirjana: What have been your favorite series/works to date in your career, and why?

Howard: I’m always the happiest with my current work, but if I look back there was one period of extraordinary growth. From about 1989 to 1994 was the period. I had been painting full time for about 5 years and had already achieved much success. That optimism, my youth, and passion allowed me to maintain a completely non self-conscious studio life. One that upon review, was a very strong period for me.

9. Mirjana: What kind of care should be given to your finished encaustic works? Is there should be fear of the work melting in normal conditions? Are they sensitive also to freezing cold temperatures as well to hot temperatures?

Howard: No direct sunlight and no sub-freezing temperatures. I always remind people that the requirements for oil paintings would be the same. Properly maintained, encaustic paintings are the most color fast of any medium. Encaustics 5000 years old have been recovered in perfect condition.

10. Mirjana: Howard, as an encaustic artist you would probably agree with me that encaustic is quite rare, used technique today. Can you tell me, approximately, how much people understand and appreciate encaustic art. Is it encaustic, an ancient technique, dating back to the Greeks, as an art technique promoted enough today. How much is represented and otherwise how much abandoned?

Howard: Encaustic is an ancient painting medium. In fact, it pre-dates oil and egg tempera. It was essentially a forgotten art though until Jaspar Johns popularized it in the 1950’s. I discovered it in 1987 and have used it on and off since then. In the last 10 to 15 years encaustic’s popularity has rocketed. There are Associations, Conferences, workshops and seminars on the subject. There is a facebook encaustic group I belong to with over 500 members.

11. Mirjana: What is the greatest compliment anyone has ever paid to you regarding your art work? How an artist should respond to such compliments and is it easier to talk about the compliment or the insult?

Howard: It would be hard to name the greatest compliment. I think peer respect is probably at the top of the list. Of course anyone who spends hard earned money for my work is offering a great compliment too. Regarding which is easier to talk about, I think insults should be kept to oneself.

12. Mirjana: To what extent does your future work shift or evolve depending on societal expectations and public perceptions of you? To what extent are other people's opinions a factor in creating your work?

Howard: I’m afraid that I’m hard enough on myself that I don’t even need pressure from the outside. However, I think the “outside” is still influencing my work, whether it be other’s opinions or the weather today.

13. Mirjana: By your opinion, does the Internet have a positive or negative influence on art and how have you found the popularity of the Internet to affect your artwork?
Howard: The internet has definitely been a two edged sword for the Arts. On the good side there is self-publishing, complete access to all information, lowering costs and basically leveling the playing field. On the bad side, the digital world has fostered artistic piracy and encouraged globalization and off shoring.

14. Mirjana: What will be your advice/suggestion to someone who is non-artist…why art? What does art do for you and our society?
Howard: My advice to non-artists would be to simply take time to smell the roses. Enjoy the gifts we’re given, whether they be straight nature or things created by people. How else to think about music, literature, painting, sculpture, and film than in a positive, nurturing way?

15. Mirjana: A work often connects with the audience. Each individual is affected in different ways, whether they understand or not, artists wants that each audience member be activated mentally, and leave with not just the answers but also a few questions as well. When you set out to create a work, what are you hoping to achieve and what do you want people to walk away with, when they see your artwork?

Howard: I always have measured the success of a piece by how long the person stands in front of it. While in its presence, the artwork is speaking to that person. Whatever is being exchanged, I cannot judge its value. Only the amount, time wise, can be measured. Ultimately, I’m the one who is looking most of the time. So, it’s me trying to please my own critical self. That is my job at hand.

Howard, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk about the journey you take through life. This was a great pleasure for me and I believe for all art admirers because it is a great opportunity to be more familiar with your artworks and their process.

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