Abyss, Acrylic on canvas, 30x40"
Overexposure, Acrylic on canvas, 30x40", 2020
Firewall, Acrylic on canvas, 9x16" 2018
(take the) Plunge, Acrylic on canvas, 30x40", 2017
Kavanaugh, Cast acrylic, acrylic and oil on canvas, 9x16", 2018
Time Machine, Acrylic on canvas, 30x40" 2018
Outgrowth, Acrylic on canvas, 9x16", 2018
Tear Gas Drones
Transplant

Heidi Neff

 

I am an artist that values BIG emotions, big stories, and all that is epic in the traditional use of the word. My work has explored love, sex, religion and politics or anything else that might be considered off-limits in polite conversation. I strive to investigate ambiguities rather than play into black-and-white thinking about any of these topics. I currently make paintings, drawings, and animations.

 

As a child, I wanted to be a novelist, and all of my work tells some kind of story, even the more abstract work. I have always been drawn to the grandiose. It started as a fascination with apocalyptic visions, probably because I was the overly sensitive child of a preacher in an end-times focused Christian denomination.  We played terrifying Revelations games in Sabbath school. I switched gears and decided to pursue art in high school when I saw a painting by German Expressionist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff that made me feel the way young love made me feel.

 

The expressionists also gave me the freedom to make work that would move people regardless of- or possibly because of- its awkwardness. I studied art at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (BFA 1994) and had amazing mentors and teachers and continually tried to paint the big love story or the big moment of spiritual ecstasy or religious reckoning. I pursued my own ecstasies in New Orleans while continuing to paint.  In graduate school at the University of Iowa (MFA 2001), I began focusing on sex and wanted to find a way to show the sometimes conflict and sometimes union of physical and spiritual passions. 

 

I continued this focus in Oakland, CA, while working at the California College of Arts and Los Medanos Community College and exhibiting my work widely in alternative spaces across the country. I re-painted Baroque church ceilings with pornographic imagery and painted politicians with their mouths hanging open in what appeared to be orgiastic moments. 

 

In 2005, I accepted a position as a full-time faculty member Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland--where I currently serve as a Full Professor of Painting and Drawing. Soon after, smartphones emerged and brought a constant stream of news alerts about disasters. My apocalyptic visions resurged and I focused on creating illuminated manuscript versions of breaking news headlines. This eventually grew into an obsession with smartphones themselves and how they affected my life. As a new mother, I felt like I was living in two worlds. One was sleek and shiny and antiseptic yet oddly full of social connection. The other world was rife with extremes of fulfilling human connection and unpleasant bodily fluids, yet also oddly lonely. 

 

At some point, I became less interested in describing these physical/ spiritual or physical/virtual dualities, and more interested in embodying the contrast in my materials. The way paint can move or drip or explode is undeniably satisfying to me on an emotional level. Many of the paintings shown here are efforts to explore the contrast between an idealized virtual world and a messy and physical reality.  


I have recently started creating animations as an extension of my studio practice, and am bringing the textured, physical, and hand-drawn aesthetic into my digital work. The big stories and big emotions remain, and I am continuing to tell the grandiose stories of today through a personal filter. My animated short, The Long Goodbye (on right) is a personal documentary of each day from Election day 2020 to Inauguration Day 2021.