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A Quick Chat With Artist Heather Sweeney

Heather Sweeney in Studio scaled
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Heather Sweeney


A Quick Chat With Artist Heather Sweeney

Heather Sweeney is a San Diego based experimental and abstract artist. She is most well known for her published poetry works including Dear Marshall, Language is Our Only Wilderness as well as her artwork which has been commissioned by private clients across the country. She earned her M.F.A. from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics where she was the Allen Ginsberg Fellow.

Today she answered our quick fire questions:

Let’s start with the news of you being the Director of the Creative Mind Academy at San Diego State University, which has brought you to San Diego. What has it been like so far? 

So far my new job has been very exciting and busy, but in the best way.  The CMA is a new program at San Diego State University that is designed for creative and determined high school Juniors and Seniors who are interested in having an experience of college life over the summer.  All of the courses are designed with our motto in mind: I Have a Creative Mind and I Dream to Be. The courses are theory-based and hands-on. My role includes many facets; including: interviewing potential instructors, scheduling excursions, organizing housing, and reviewing student applications. We are launching in Summer 2022 and I could not be more excited about it!

Your career as an artist started off as an author of several poetry books and chapbooks. How has this helped shape you into the painter you are today? 

I have always engaged with both writing and visual art. They seem to go hand in hand for me.  I recently told someone that writing is more about the mind and painting is more about the body, at least for me.  Although they contain and offer different experiences, both of these practices are intuitive, abstract, and nonlinear.

A lot of your work can be described as being busy and energetic.
Please could you take us through your work process from start to finish?

I usually start with a color palette and use 2 -3 colors as my base.  I cover the canvas several times with the colors, rotating the canvas along the way so that the colors bleed into each other.  Sometimes I use a spray bottle to create an effect of lines overlapping the neighboring color or colors.  I let that sit after a few layers. Then, I will go back in with secondary colors, creating shapes as they emerge.  I should add that I am always working on two to three paintings at a time so that when one is drying or needs a break, I can work on another canvas.  After many layers, I use acrylic markers to create more defined lines and sometimes shapes, letters, and numbers.  It is a process of layering and finding out what wants to be hidden and what wants to be exposed.  When a painting feels finished there are probably at least 15-30 paintings living underneath the finished work. 

Your style of work can be perceived as experimental and abstract. How has your style of work changed over the years? 

My art has evolved and changed a lot over the years.  I started out doing a lot of realistic figures and portraits.  About 8 or 9 years ago, I started moving into abstraction and experimentation without the intention to do so.  It just felt very natural to me and I try to ride that wave when it shows up. 

This has been a busy year for you already. How are you feeling about the future? What’s next?

I feel extremely hopeful about the future, considering the heaviness we have all experienced for the past year and a half.  I am grateful to be doing my artwork and working at an amazing place where I feel supported. I can’t wait to see what happens and I hope that my art can add some energy, hopefulness and inspiration to those who encounter it.

You can check out Heather Sweeney’s art on her website here


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