Heiidi Tailleferr Interview
Interview by: Michelle Markelz
Based on your interest in technology and environmental issues, do you consider yourself an activist or your art a work of activism?
I used to think of my work as such, when I was focusing on robotic images of animals found in nature, etc. I would like to have had a larger audience but I was starting out and it’s only recently that art made from garbage is getting so much attention, which forces the subject of environmentalism by focusing on the mess we leave behind. As for technology, I didn’t see myself as an activist because I was pretty neutral about it and maybe against it, whereas today I think it can be harnessed in a good way and is a good thing. I was more trying to highlight the impact of technology on society, I think technology in itself isn’t bad, it’s been here all along and has radically improved both the quality and span of our lives, as much as it’s also destroying us because it’s improperly managed. And it subjects other animals to tremendous suffering and cruelty in the process. We’re advancing way faster than we are becoming wise, and that’s what is our greatest demise. Maybe that’s why I switched my focus to the human condition, and universal/eternal themes, which determine how we apply the use of technology, hairless apes that we are.
Has turning your passion (“mechanizing” things) into a trademark been a technique to market yourself, or just an expression of your interests?
It was totally an expression of my interests. I realized it was a style of my own, a mashup of many influences I had around me, which is good for branding, but it started out as an obsession during adolescence long before I realized the importance of branding, or that I would become a professional artist.
Would you recommend working with an art agent? Explain why.
Your gallery is usually your agent, unless you do one-off’s with temporary galleries in different cities, as I have done in the past couple of years. Generally you can work closely with one gallery, which is like a relationship, and is the best way to go, I think, because there is a focus and plan that is so crucial to making headway. And not all galleries put in the same effort or know what to do, so there is some deciding for oneself to be done as well. Everything can be discussed, but some galleries can insist on things being their way and hold you back or push you forward, whereas other galleries give you the freedom to contribute to the whole process, with more freedom to pursue possibilities alongside them. But I found that I settled into the American gallery scene just before or around the time of the 2009 economic downturn and it affected the art market particularly for emerging and mid-career artists. Plus I got sidetracked with commercial projects for Infiniti car company and the Cirque du Soleil, so it diluted my contribution gallery-wise, which changed my situation overall. That being the case, we go where it all takes us, and at present I’ve begun working with two private agents/dealers to help plug projects in Europe and Canada, collaborating with galleries as well as non-gallery alternative venues. Hopefully I can extend this into Asia too, but it’s very new and a conscious decision to work for a while outside of the traditional gallery scene.
Your first feature was in 1994 in Artspeak. How did you get on the print media radar?
That article came out of a show I participated in at Agora gallery in New York. I had answered a call for entries, as a way to get my foot in a gallery, and the show got covered in Artspeak. That kind of thing also got me shown in California with the national watercolor society, which is a lesser-known but major art association in California, now included as part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American art. I think I was accepted with them on the strength of my work being so different…watercolor robots in contrast with the traditional watercolor paintings we generally think of. While showing down there, the editor of watercolor magazine saw my work and they did a feature on me in that magazine, which was picked up by the director of the McAllen museum of art and science in McAllen, Texas. They then offered me a show there in 1997.
What are some ways, other than your website, you use to market yourself?
I’m not very good with marketing myself, I’m too distracted by real-life circumstances, which influence my work, which I then produce, and all of which reduces time to market myself. It’s bad organizing on my part, but I am almost always approached to participate in shows. I do have plans for a marketing push using various media as well as solo shows, which really focus on media to support the events. It’s not something a commercial gallery representing many artists has the time or resources to do really, depending on the gallery. But my plans include book publications as well as a doll series, video animations of my work, and I’m lucky in that I get included in high profile show events such as those hosted by the Cirque du Soleil, etc… That association does a lot to forward the image/brand of an artist. But events need a follow-through elsewhere, which is where an agent/gallery comes in crucially to set up new projects.
Are some more successful than others?
In a way, I would say detractors pitted against supporters are the best promoters of art. There has been a lot of dramatic and weird circumstance in the last 6 years of my life, and it’s been intimately connected with my work and gotten me talked about and marketed inadvertently. The idea is to follow through with it all, which is where an agent can come in very handy. But on the other hand, I’ve also been lucky in that I get associated with high-visibility companies or associations, which helps give me visibility as well. In the past it’s what helped, but it depends how you want to brand yourself and who’s receptive to your work. You definitely want to go where value is added to you, not the other way around. In art there are so many directions to take. The dream is often to become a star artist, and I’m not sure anyone knows how to orchestrate that purposely. Maybe a few high profile galleries who are experts in the field, with the right connections, but even they have to market those artists. It’s a buildup of attention somehow; art does not just sell itself. Some art does and, though I’ve sold many paintings over the years, I’ve had people fall in love with a piece instantly, and other times they hate it at first and it’s only after one is made to understand what is behind the work that they start to love it.
Can you share a story of one of your biggest hurdles as an artist and how you overcame it?
I’d say at the beginning stages my plan was to become an illustrator and couple that with fine art, but I never studied either in school, so I was doing it all by interviewing professionals mostly, or learning from those who did study in school.
For a while I had a job as a graphic artist in a cheap clothing company, and after work, continued developing my illustration skills at home for hours to become a freelancer. I left the job after 5 months and got a business grant to become an illustrator, which finally took off with a contract for Molson Dry but it was touch and go for a while.
I was also submitting paintings to gallery shows/calls for entries so it was pretty busy. I got a job working on a Molson Dry commercial and that got things started, combined with participation in group shows, and I was included in articles, which lead to other things.
Another story is that by 2004 things were taking off in fine-art, and I went off to India to celebrate a successful show, but broke my painting arm in a serious accident in the desert near the border of Pakistan. The story in itself is both funny and intense and dramatic and too long to go into detail here (I got thrown off a camel..more marketing material).
I got to do a show of experimental work in which I featured me/my broken art at the Cirque du Soleil in 2005 (where I was asked to give a private explanation to Bono from U2), but it was generally misinterpreted and I was badly criticized as an artist along the way for several years after (more marketing).
Things for me spun into the surreal as sales slowed significantly with bad experiences with one or two galleries abroad, suspicions as to how I was sustaining myself financially grew (more marketing), speculations about me ran wild as did false rumors and I was being vilified for a while, which was actually serving to market my name though I could not have planned any of it. Things had gotten bad enough that I almost quit in 2007, but by the following year things began to turn around and have continued to do so since. But in the end, it got me talked about like nothing else.
How has the landscape of art entrepreneurship changed since you started your career?
I think artists are taking charge of their own careers more now, with the availability of new media, which allows them to govern how they showcase themselves, which is more affordable than traditional media before.
What are your plans for your next project or exhibit?
I’m planning to show work locally in Montreal after years of being out of the scene here, and I have a few group shows coming up internationally. One is in Tallahassee, Florida in October, and another is in London in December.
Heidi Taillefer’s work is an original creative fusion of classical figurative painting, surrealism, contemporary realism, and mythology combined with popular figurative traditions ranging from Victorian romanticism to science fiction. It is consonant with some of the early 20th century surrealists such as Max Ernst and Giorgio DeChirico, as she depicts subjects comprised of seemingly incongruous and mechanized objects characterized as symbolic, spun into a contemporary context.
In her work she explores universal aspects of the human condition presented in a surreal and dreamlike manner, while incorporating massively expanding technological development throughout human society, reflecting its ubiquity and merger with humanity as a whole.
Taillefer draws most of her inspiration through personal experiences and observations, from which comes a philosophical search for understanding and meaning in our lives. Having lived in a colorful, dramatic, and varied set of circumstances, she finds inspiration through the emotional intensity she feels through witnessing the good and the bad, the absurd and the sublime. Though not religious, she increasingly delves into universal aspects of the spiritual which are inherent throughout most religions, and often find their way into her work. Therein she borrows from the principle of mythology, as a way of conveying a given understanding in a staged manner more readily understood by its audience.
Taillefer’s work has noticeably evolved since the mid-80’s, when she depicted fully mechanized organisms placed in natural settings. It has moved from robotocized animals to symbolism and sometimes kitch, then later incorporating aspects of the human condition. Her focus shifted from the environment and technological development, to philosophical musings on the meaning of life.
More recently she has become interested in exploring the connection between physics and consciousness, which to her would seem innately connected. This we all recognize as manifesting our circumstances, complex and kaleidescopic as its mechanism may be. Since 2005, after an accident she sustained while traveling alone in India, seriously fracturing and separating the joint of her radius on her painting arm, she noticed that her life mirrored her work afterwards for better or worse. After living out the vicissitudes she depicted on canvas from 2005 to 2010, she began to realize the connection between intense emotion and creativity at all levels. She has begun projecting forward in an effort to mould her circumstances as she would like them to be, as well as she is able to conceive of them, part of an ongoing experiment in shaping reality through principles in consciousness and physics. This she believes, is where technology is heading.