As y’all know, we LOVE the Frank Gallery, so it only seemed fitting to include a feature on a Frank Artist in each of our Design Guides. Our Summer Guide featured Shelly Hehenberger – read on to learn more about Shelly, her artistic process, and to see some of her work!
“Art brings a house into the realm of home, a real place that reflects and inspires those who live there. My house is full of art made by myself and my friends, and living with this work every day makes me feel supported by the love and caring of my community. This is why having local art is so important.” -Shelly
Chaos & Cosmos
My work is a meditation on the patterns and forms in the natural sciences, explored through the process of drawing and painting.
The imagery I use suggests the natural world and its state of constant change, especially within the realm of biology and geology. Using many, non-traditional tools for applying layers of oil paint and cold wax medium, I create the topography of the surface through carving and re-collaging of the medium.
It is through this continuous additive and subtractive process that I create my surfaces slowly over the course of many months. This layering and removing of the materials evokes a sense of the constructive (cosmos) and deconstructive (chaos) energies that exists at all levels of nature, revealing the essential balance and creative tension that exists between the two.
Wherever I experience the variations of nature and its processes, I pay close attention to the diversity and complexity of the forms and structures. Every possibility exists here, yet new ones are constantly emerging in the ever-changing combinations of the simplest of elements such as carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.
I strive to make my own process about this same kind of discovery, stretching to encompass every potential of what I can do with the medium. Paint, cold wax, sand, chalk, graphite, resin and other media. I find it exciting to think that perhaps there is no limit but only a continuous pushing outward into a new array of possibility.
Paul Klee said “The true artist does not work from nature, but like her and in her.” In the same way, I let my way of working be like the nature that inspires me. I savor the journey of making as an end in itself, and in the process come to know myself better through gaining a deeper understanding of the natural world of which I am an inseparable part.
About shelly hehenberger
After earning a BA in art from Indiana University, and an MFA in painting from the University of Cincinnati in 1994, I began a career in art and art education that has lasted two and a half decades. During my time in graduate school, I became interested in working abstractly as I heavily identified with my abstractionist professors, fellow students, and artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Terry Winters, and Robert Motherwell.
At that time I was working in acrylic media, discovering the vast potential of large scale collage. After graduation, I continued with collage but also revisited the simplicity of drawing, while also teaching art to all ages at the Cincinnati Art Academy. In the early 2000’s, my husband and I relocated to the Carolinas where I became interested in working with oils as I had done in high school and as an undergrad at IU. A friend had given me a small container of Dorlan’s Cold Wax Medium years before, but I had never tried it since I was not using oil mediums at that time. In 2006 I decided that I would get to know this new material and see what I could do with it.
Through trial and experimentation, I grew to know the medium well and have been working with it ever since. I still use acrylic and drawing mediums, especially in my collaborative work with artist Luna Lee Ray, but the potential of the cold wax medium continues to fascinate me. I’ve used it nearly every day for over 15 years and am still discovering the exciting potential of this versatile medium. Until recently, I knew of no other artists using it, therefore all my knowledge of its applications has been realized through my own continuous working. Whether I am mixing it with oil paint, sand, crushed wax, chalk, or other materials and building it into deep layers, or if I am carving into the highly workable surface it creates, I enjoy the cold wax which requires no heating (unlike encaustic,) and has a slow drying time allowing for long-term working.
As a child and young adult, I spent a great deal of time outdoors in the woody environment of the midwest, thereby gleaning a lifelong interest and passion for all things nature. Since then, I have studied natural sciences and gathered enough understanding of how things grow and exist in the physical world to bring a deep influence to my work. This influence can be seen in not only the themes I choose, but in the layer-based working process I use to make my highly textural and organic looking surfaces.
My goals in the future involve continuing to create with the cold wax medium, to keep going with the exciting collaborative work with Luna, and to expand into other mediums. This current show is an example of the my most recent work which ties together ideas of process with biology and human psychology. The cocoon like imagery is most compelling to me for its deeply textural quality, collage based construction, and rhythmic patterning. It combines many of the forms and imagery I have incorporated in the past and feels to me entirely fresh and comprehensive to my ideas and working goals.