W.S. Heppenheimer was the Top Honors recipient of the Guild Hall Museum 76th Annual Artists Members Exhibition in 2014, an award selected by Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art, which led to the current solo exhibition and my first meeting the artist. Walking into his Sag Harbor studio in Spring of 2016 was like entering another time and space; from floor to ceiling and spread out on his working tables were millions of intricate segments and bursts of color—some already arranged into finished works, others in various stages of production. The unused pieces had fallen to the floor, creating their own haphazard compositions. Mesmerizing and kaleidoscopic, Heppenheimer’s works play with our notions of abstraction and representation. Faces, figures, anthropomorphic creatures, even a Storm-Trooper mask, I thought, began to appear, further questioning perception versus intention.
To describe the work as mosaic would be accurate to an extent, but instead of each tesserae being a solid color, they are made up of a multitude of hues. Heppenheimer’s process is unlike any other. He pours acrylic paint into Pyrex dishes, swirls it to achieve various marbleized effects, a blue mixed with a neon pink or a green with a glow-in-the-dark pigment. Once dried, he cuts small cross sections which he can then arrange into geometric forms and totems. He plays with symmetry and then throws us off course—seesawing between order and chaos—all with a keen sense of humor. Downplaying the visual complexity, Heppenheimer said, “I always liked to put things together, the more the merrier.”
Heppenheimer was born in New York City in 1954 and lived in Paris and London before returning to NYC. He studied at Colorado College, Pratt, and Florida State, where he graduated from in 1980. He spent summers on the East End with his family, before becoming a year-round resident. As an art student, he always had an affinity for the properties of color—he was inspired by Op Art and artists like Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley—and started out making Hard-edge paintings. Over time, experimenting with painting and sculpture, at times merging the two, his style took shape. He first entered Guild Hall’s Artists Members Exhibition in 2009 and was awarded Best Sculpture. This is his first solo museum exhibition. Heppenheimer lives and works in Sag Harbor, New York.
Stephanie deTroy Miller
Curatorial Assistant/Lewis B. Cullman Associate for Museum Education
Guild Hall Museum
East Hampton, New York