Daniel HeidkampEURO TRIPPING

interview by Bill Powers

Fresh from a group portrait show at the journal gallery alongside Dana Schutz and Henry Taylor, painter Daniel Heidkamp takes a traipse through european art history.

BP Tell me about your White Columns show last June.
DH We wound up using my big winter painting, “Metropolitan High,” as the working title for the show. It makes direct reference to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, of course, which you can see in the background and then there’s the drug implication. You could also say it’s a nod to high art.

BP More broadly, I thought your exhibition channeled the frustrations and aspirations of a young artist starting off. I know Sherrie Levine says a lot of her early work came from the feeling of having her face pressed up against the glass.
DH My idea was to do a series of landscapes where The Met was, on some level, in every painting because automatically it’s a charged environment, front-loaded with imagery and meaning. The grounds behind The Met seemed like an appropriate location for a young painter, the outsider looking in. I go to The Met and visit their Poussins and Van Goghs, but I live in the 21st century so you can’t help wonder, what is oil painting today?

BP And at the same time, by making these paintings, perhaps it’s your ticket inside these venerable institutions?
DH Yeah, totally. Some of the paintings were crisp and solid while others had what you always find in oil painting, which is slippage, and it’s in those little moments where you can enter the work and find something uncanny. I painted the changing of the seasons, how the light mutates, the cool blues, the blossoming of pink and white.

BP I saw Peter Doig at your White Columns opening and I wondered if he’s an influence?
DH Definitely, anybody who is making representational oil painting today I will look at. Alex Katz was probably the first painter I ever took notice of who gave me some point of entry.

BP I know Doig will use photographs as source material. Is that an approach you take?
DH Most of my source material comes through observational painting from life. It’s the central core of what I do.

BP Is that what they call en plein air?
DH Yes, in the open air. Weirdly, when I was in France last month, the only time I saw that phrase anywhere was on the side of an ice cream truck. But I don’t necessarily use that term. I prefer to say “live” painting. I’m not trying to make a spectacle of myself. I don’t want people to come up to me, quite the opposite. For me, it’s the simple matter of painting without a screen, without a filter, between myself and what I’m representing.


Daniel Heidkamp “Untiteled(Holly)”
34x29In Oil on linen 2014



Daniel Heidkamp “Metropolitan High”
81x95In Oil on linen 2014


BP It’s interesting how something like the advent of paint in tubes during the 19th century was a shift technology that totally changed the game for, say, the Impressionists.
DH Totally. The other thing I like is how certain paint brands – Winsor & Newton or Lefranc & Bourgeois — these companies are three hundred years old using secret recipes that someone like Manet might have painted with, the same pigment formulations I can work with now.BP Tell me about the “Barbizon Beauty School” show you are planning at half gallery for spring 2015.
DH I thought a good jumping off point after The Met show at White Columns was to go back in time, beyond the institutional walls, to the mecca of great landscape painting. So I went to the Barbizon, which is a forested area about thirty miles southeast of Paris. Monet painted there, Corot, Millet. Rousseau, Alfred Sisley. If you look at their work, you can see them creating the blueprint for Impressionism. I was surprised how dedicated the area is to its history. I drove around and hiked into the woods where you find plaques and diagrams pinpointing the exact locations of these famous Barbizon paintings.
BP But the show title “Barbizon Beauty School” is also a joke, right?
DH As a child of the 1980s growing up on the East Coast, you would see cheesy TV ads for the Barbizon modeling school so… yes. On my same trip to France, I also made a painting of the new Frank Gehry building for the Louis Vuitton Foundation which dovetails thematically I hope.

BP And then there are your nudes of French women mixed in with the cityscapes and countryside.
DH What was it that Willem de Kooning said? Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented. There’s something so seductive about painting a figure.

BP Is it true that you briefly worked as a studio assistant for Bjarne Melgaard? Were you a witness to instances of drug-induced depravity?
DH You know, I signed a nondisclosure agreement so I’m not at liberty to speak about that gig. I did also work for Tony Matelli where I remember sewing hair onto a monkey sculpture. Actually, it was an ape strangling a chimpanzee.