Heather Sweeney is an artist, writer, activist, and ally originally from Michigan who now lives in San Diego. Over the course of her career, she has published several poetry books including Call Me California and Dear Marshall, Language is Our Only Wilderness as well as two chapbooks Just Let Me Have This and Same Bitch, Different Era: The Real Housewives Poems.
Much like her writing, her visual artwork is experimental and abstract. Engaging with bold colors and thick impasto lines applied with palette knives or her hands, her work is primarily intuitive and not planned.
Sweeney currently works as the Director of the Creative Mind Academy at San
Diego State University where she also teaches. Her abstract paintings have been
commissioned by private clients and at the Professional Studies and Fine Arts department
at San Diego State University. She also serves as a Steering Committee Member at
Rising Arts Leaders, San Diego.
Today we had the opportunity to chat with her…
How long have you been an artist?
At the risk of sounding cliche, I have been an artist for as long as I can remember. My mother is an artist so, as a child, I was always involved in making something. I recall doing watercolors, drawings, and making little books. As a teen, my interest in contemporary art and pop art was sparked and I continued to pursue drawing and writing poetry on my own.
How would you describe your work?
I describe my work as abstract. My paintings are vivid, containing lots of movement, and linework. The linework is graffiti-like and also the most intuitive aspect of my work. It is like a personal language for me. I often do the linework with my eyes closed.
Who are your biggest influences?
There are so many artists I admire. Earlier influences include the Abstract Expressionists: Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, and Helen Frankenthaler. More recently, I am constantly engaging with and returning to the works of Mark Bradford, Kevin Tolman, Nancy Spero and Nick Cave. Also, I am constantly reading poetry and essays on and about poetry and art. I love the poets Cedar Sigo, Suzanne Stein, and Mei Mei Berssengrugge.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as an artist?
Do I have to choose just one?! I think the biggest challenge for me has been carving out the time to work on my art. Lately, I have been committing more time and energy to my art and that has opened things up for me. I think that, if you really want something, you have to be all in and put the art first.
How has your work changed over the years?
My art has evolved so much. I started out doing a lot of figures and portraits. About 8 or 9 years ago, I started moving into abstraction without the intention to do so. It just felt very natural to me and I try to ride that wave when it shows up.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I am working on a series of paintings I am calling The Myth of Us. It is a quieter series and focuses on connection, intersections, and gravitation. I think that my use of negative space is expanding and it is giving me some breathing room. I am trying to offer an experience that is less busy and more about space and stillness.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in art to date?
My greatest accomplishment has been not about sales or notoriety. I think my greatest accomplishment has been that I have manifested the life I always wanted. When I was a teenager, growing up in a small town in Michigan, I always said that I was going to live in California someday and be an artist, a notion that seemed, at the time, like something out of reach. It seemed like a fantasy, but I have always dreamed big.
Where can people purchase your art?