Andrea Joyce Heimer: Plotter of Debauchery, Lover of Zebras
We spoke to the painter Andrea Joyce Heimer in the thick of quarantine--she was out back of her Ferndale, Washington house, in a newly wrought studio, surrounded by paintings that were getting ready to be packed up and shipped to Los Angeles for a show at Nino Mier Gallery, in West Hollywood. Somewhere on the premises, a family of raccoons she’d taken to feeding slumbered. For most of the pandemic, Heimer had been working on drawings, which were new for her: she’d run out of supplies and couldn’t get more, because everything was closed. “I was really anxious and freaked out,” she said. “Just to keep myself busy I was doing a drawing a day of my little people just kind of hanging out, not doing anything, just waiting like everybody else was.” That Heimer’s work would reflect just that—what everyone was doing—makes total sense. Her work is highly narrative—you can read it, like a book, but a very good book, the kind you can keep coming back to.
The internet got finicky, so Heimer carried her laptop into her house, which was surprisingly clean and organized for someone who created a painting entitled “In The Summer We Started Drinking During The Hot Of The Day And By Nighttime We Were Monsters.” It didn’t look like people capable of monstrousness of any kind lived there at all, but then again, it was daytime. Heimer told us that she hoped to start an artist residency nearby. She planned to have zebras. “There are a couple of breeders in Washington state, so that’s going to be one of the draws: to come hang out with the zebras,” she said. It sounded like a pretty epic time. Like being in one of Heimer’s paintings, come to think of it.
Back to that book-ness, that two-dimensionality, that flatness that’s fundamentally not-lacking in the way that flatness might otherwise be—Heimer has poor eyesight, she says. Or at least spatial perception, which is odd for an artist, and particularly one who lays out forms the way she does, diagrammatically almost, like flattened dioramas of real life. “Foreground, middle ground, background—it just doesn’t make sense in my head. There’s something that happens from the eyeball to the brain that is disconnected in me,” she says. So it must help her, or at least enthrall her, to pancake life out, to take an act as frenetic as progressive drunkenness and plot it, step by step, level by level. First floor: a septuplet of friends, eating pizza, crushing beers, getting funky. Second floor: five folks and some non-human appendages, a tail here, a wing there, more cups strewn than clutched. And finally, third floor and nearest (in a fun twist of events) the heavens: four beasts with only vestiges of personhood left, and one celestial lightbulb sparkling in the night.