Mark Heyer’s faux-naive snake charmer conjures up memories of cabinet cards of sideshow stars from the late 19th century. Set like a jewel in a gilded frame created by the artist, the painting is one of several circus and carnival-themed works in Heyer’s exhibition at Lohin Geduld Gallery. There’s also a sideshow talker, a circus tent being raised, an unruly circus act and daredevil motorcyclists.
“I have been painting from these types of subjects for quite some time,” Heyer told ATZ. The artist grew up going to the carnival at his hometown fair in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Coney Island’s sideshow and games were a source of fascination during the two decades he lived in Brooklyn. Heyer, who received an MFA from Parsons School of Design, moved to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, six years ago. “I am particularly interested in slowing down things, so that cool things don’t just get swept into a dumpster. Circuses and Carnivals seem to be some of the first things that go away and don’t come back. They are something that predates us and as the corporate world grows it seems bent on getting rid of these simple, amazing pleasures.”
Both Heyer’s paintings and vintage photographs have an enigmatic quality and evoke a sense of wonder. ATZ asked the artist to talk about how vintage photos inform his work and the process by which he selects and translates a photo into a painting
One thing with vintage photographs that I always make an attempt to do is acquire the photo. There is something about me being able to hold it in my hands. Like the blind searching for a different point of view. That’s not always possible, so a print out has to do. Vintage photographs are fascinating, things were slower paced, or they seem so. Often, objects in these weren’t meant to be disposable.
Usually I start my search for either circus photos or sideshow photos. Those words are what I type in. Not to be silly or anything, but I do my best to go inside that photo, as a viewer of what is happening. I come out and bring what I found to my painting. I always intend to put just enough down, so that the viewer of my work has room to add to the story. The story is never wrong, because, most times there is only a date that goes with the picture. I love it if someone adds to the story and the story continues.
The circus tent being raised. To me, it’s the preparation for what is to come. The excitement, whirlwind of imagination will all be in there. This one came from an actual photo too. I thought it was amazing because you don’t usually see this in process. To quote a painting teacher I had. “Surprise and Clarity” This picture has that I think, because it is a surprise to see what they are working on and it’s very clear what they are doing.
The Unruly is the last of what you ask about. This one in particular I invite the viewer to add to the story, because who is the unruly one? The mule? The clown on the left? Or even someone in the background could have done something to start this event. In the actual photo there is a wagon also, but it wasn’t needed for what I wanted to show. I imagine this photo was staged as part of an act, I don’t really know though. It was a great image from my favorite subject matter and also allows for many different endings to the story. When I first found this photograph, I intended this one to be the image on the card. It was also the first painting that I painted for this show.
Mark Heyer, Recent Work, through December 17, 2011. Lohin Geduld Gallery, 531 West 25 Street, New York, NY, 212-675-2656
Related posts on ATZ…
September 28, 2011: Rare & Vintage: Auction of French Fairground Art
January 19, 2011: Opens Jan 27: Nickel Empire: Coney Island Photographs 1898-1948
December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike
November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola