(originally published in Bootleg Magazine March 2008)
By Brian Tucker
Josh Heilaman is a working artist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma whose creations look as though they couldn’t be further from the lower mid-western part of the United States. Combining bright, electric, pastel colors to create furry and fuzzy creatures that are sweet and somewhat precarious, Heilaman has woven together something out of this world and Saturday morning cartoon-ready.
The images are painted on wood, canvas and old 33rpm vinyl records, thus adding to the friendly psychedelic allure of his art. Heilaman says that curiosity and self-motivation has been most helpful to him as an artist.
What is your philosophy about your artwork and art itself?
Heilaman: I believe that art, at its core, is simply an expression of the individuals involved. The work I do is no different. I think it’s fantastic that we live in a world that will support people in their efforts to express themselves.
Your work, at times, resembles Arthur C. Clarke crossed with Brian Froud.
Most of my pieces fall into one of two categories, an example of technique or products of exploration. Usually, the work will incorporate both these elements. This approach allows one to paint without a solid style or predetermined outcome.
Where does the inspiration come from?
Pieces of that nature usually represent the dualism of life and our thought processes because it takes a while to finish a piece, sometimes the end result can be the total opposite of the original intention. Work of that nature is generally representative of some lingering thoughts that get resolved through the painting.
Several of your pieces have a recurring swirl that appears in the background.
I suppose it’s a subconscious thing. Generally, the composition starts with the swirls as a map of sorts, plotting out the composition. I very rarely have an intention when starting a new piece. I prefer to let the process feed me the ideas.
Is there a particular genre of music you listen to while you paint?
I’m always playing some sort of music. I let my computer pick most of the time, it’s got good taste. However, I find that the music created by my band, Esthing, always compliments the process perfectly. Perhaps it’s because a lot of the same thoughts involved with painting went into the music too.
Do you usually start with the background or do you already have the subject in mind?
I feel that the environment must exist before the creatures. They don’t have anywhere to go until you make it for them, right?
What emotional or spiritual connections, if any, do you have with the paintings?
It varies. Most of my paintings are inspired by observation. That could be people and ideas close to me or simply things that fascinate me. All the rest are self portraits in some regard.
I noticed that you paint on different mediums – canvas, china, skateboards.
I will try to paint on anything that needs it. My favorite medium varies, really. Right now, the most satisfying is acrylic paint on MDF board. Very easy to work with. My paintings are generally sized from 1’x1′ up to 5’x5′. Drawings and other things are usually smaller than 1’x1′.
At what age did you begin painting?
As long as I can remember, I loved to draw. Draw, draw, draw all the time. Around 1995 I tried out painting for the first time to make up for the dullness of drawing. I found it to be terribly frustrating. It was difficult to realize that painting, at its core, is entirely different from drawing. After realizing that, I fell in love with it.
Artists who have influenced your painting?
Yes. All of them. Everyone who I’ve ever met that has a genuine interest in exploring the realms of creativity has inspired me and influenced me to continue. The list would be way too long, you know who you are.
What advice, encouraging or discouraging made you work even harder to create your art?
Yes. When I first became interested in art as a profession, I found a great deal of opposition from the art community. The “big” galleries at the time wouldn’t even give me the time of day. This frustrated me for years.
My view of that changed though, I decided to take all of the negative intimidation and eat it up so I could spit it back out in the form of something beautiful. Fortunately, the tide of things changed and now there are supportive people/organizations about in Oklahoma City, like the City Arts Center and Ovac, just to name few.