ARTISTS WITH THEIR WORK & PIECES OF CONTEMPORARY ART
My name is Heather Jeanne Chontos, born in Tarrytown, NY. I am 42, with two beautiful daughters Kodie age 21 and Zana 12. I live in an old stone house from the 17th Century in South Western rural France with my partner Luis Agostini, a chef from South Tyrol. I live with a two year old Tibetan Terrier, two kittens, Willow and Charlie Chaplin, four un-named french hens and a rooster.
As an artist I believe that the person making the work and the story that they have to tell is more relevant to understanding the work. It informs a clearer idea of who is behind the creation and how they maybe even choose their medium. We should get to know our artists and their environments, their stories and then we should look at their work.
PIECE WITH ARTIST
JAN 11, 2021. FRANCE.
Tell us your story, how did you come to painting? I always painted. I always drew, since I was very young. I grew up not so far away from NYC , but that important discovery did not come until I was about 13, and then I understood that I needed to be there as much as possible. I loved the quiet nature of the old house I grew up in with my two siblings, my mother, an antique collector and my father a carpenter and utilities service worker, but the buzz of an urban existence was very enticing and I wanted to explore and be exposed to all of it from early on.
I had many jobs as a kid, working as a gardener since I was 10 for my neighbours, babysitting, working the cashier at a local health food store and also at the local music store. I saved every penny I could to get out of there and go see the world. I started traveling Internationally at age 15 on my own after a long year of serious illness at age 14 where I lost my sight in both eyes.
I had a sudden onslaught of bilateral optic neuritis. It took the a while to figure out why over the course of 24 hours I went from staggering pain in my neck and head to blurry vision in one eye, then both, and then total blindness, like a grey flat screen where no light or shadow came in. The grey never fluctuated. It was always the same, but over time with a lot of medication and hospital testing it slowly came back. It was an experience that I can never fully comprehend as to how it has informed and affected so many of my lives choices good and bad. I lived hard and fast afterwards, rushingthorugh life as to not miss a beat because I was terrified that it would happen again someday and that maybe this time my sight would not return. I moved to BArcelona at 16 to do a study abroad, then to University in London the following year with 17.
I studied art history and chemistry to conserve artwork, not art. I had a great love and passion for furniture design and ended up working for some of the bests in London whilst attending University. It gave me a doorway into world I previously knew nothing about and then one da, my boyfriend at the time, an art student at the Slade school of art saw some of my sketchbooks and got me an interview with admissions. I was accepted to Slade, but I could not afford the new tuition so I quit University altogether, and so I am a self taught artist, I really had no idea what I was doing.
I went into a career as a prop stylist and creative director for interiors and fashion mostly. I worked with some of the best photographers in the world and made my visual impact that way for a very long time. I was always painting and always drawing at the same time as everything else. I fell in love and met my ex husband at 19, had my first daughter at 21 and then my first solo show in London with Stephen Lacey Gallery. I thought I would sell everything I was so sure of myself! And when I didn’t, I stopped painting seriously for a while, a long while, like 3 years. I wasn’t ready. I was too young and my life was so full of new un-certainty being a new young mother. I was divorced by 24.
The story continues and I am now fully dedicated to my fine art practice, all these years later with many other creative endeavor in between, but always at the core of what I loved, was painting, drawing, sculpture and photography, to make, to create a visual world that I can share with everyone else.
How would you define your current painting? My current painting is abstract, its impulsive, its intuitive, its the ebb and flow of joy, sadness, chaos, beauty, fear, vulnerability and astonishment at life that finds its way from within me to a whatever it is I am working on.
Tell us about your style and technique. Any secret that can be told? I hate paintbrushes. I love them as objects, but I hate using them. I don’t like brushstrokes, so I paint with plastic hotel room key cards mostly. I found guy with a 3-D printer and he makes me cards in different shapes and sizes now, but generally I like using this sort of tool because I can really get direct with my surface and my medium. I can put pressure when I need to and be as close to my work as physically possible. I like messing with paint and I am now obsessed with oil sticks and playing with those, again, they ar very direct mediums. I am very open and connected at the same time with my painting process. I don’t get distracted easily form what I am doing because it is an extension of myself. So my painting is personal and very physical.
How do you usually start your paintings? With a sketch, a draft or is it just an improvisation? No sketching, no drafts really. I can see what I am going to make in my head before I do it sometimes, but that is the closest to a sketch that I will get. Sometimes when I am running early in the morning and I take in the landscape it gives me a visual that I can translate into a painting. I often will do that when I am travelling. I will register my surroundings and my brain will translate the image into an abstraction, that is why so much of my work is titled and based on places I have been.
What are your motivation forces? And the artists who have been and are an influence for you? My motivation as that I can’t really breath or think straight without making my work. I am very prolific. I paint or draw or make a lot of work because it is a process for me that feels like the only thing I am actually meant to do in this life. Nature is my inspiration, the beauty of it all and my love for the life that I get to have. Most of the artists that I have been inspired by are no longer with us, like Cy Twombly and Helen Frankenthaler, but i love artists working out of Japan, like Takesada Matsutani . I adore his work and admire the longevity of his practice. I am inspired by a lot of photography as well, a recent discovery from South Korea is Minji Yi. I was in Paris at the Yvonne Lambert book store and found the book of his photography and it blew my mind, photographs of light and dark and plants and life that take on the essence of what I try to chive in an abstract painting. Really beautiful work, very greatly in admiration.
What can you tell us about your studio, what kind of place is it? My studio is an old stone barn with wooden floors and stone walls and some improvised flat white walls for hanging work on. I generally work on the floor because I can roll out my large works and work on them that way, so i need floor space as well as wall space. My studio is busy with animals running through it all the time (dog chasing cats) I also entertain neighbours there for dinner sometimes. My studio is full of life and color and energy and I want it to stay that way. I like to get up very early with my coffee and work in the mornings before the chaos starts, but I love the energy that comes through the rest of the day as well. It’s the perfect balance.
What is art for you? Art for me is a creative personification of one’s self.