Portrait of the Artist

Heather Kirtland

Grounded Vessels

By Noelani Kirschner | November 22, 2021
Surface, 2021, mixed media on canvas, 26 x 42 inches.
Surface, 2021, mixed media on canvas, 26 x 42 inches.

Heather Kirtland’s style has evolved considerably in the two decades since she was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where her thesis project focused on figural painting. Now many of her paintings feature a pentagon-shaped object that resembles a boat or a vessel or a house—an abstract analog to the human form that she places in various off-center positions on the canvas. Around it she paints rudimentary shapes or monochromatic blocks of blues and greens. “By causing some sort of composition where [the pentagon-shaped figure] is put under stress or affected by the objects around it, I feel like I can portray emotion,” she explains. “I’m a pretty happy person, so even when I’m showing human struggle, I don’t lose hope in the painting.”

  • Bloom, 2021, mixed media on canvas, 9 x 12 inches.

Kirtland carries a sketchbook and colored pencils with her to draft ideas and play with color combinations when she’s away from the studio. On the canvas, cheerful splatters of paint and tight rainbow stripes work with (or against) dark navy and dusky gray tones, alluding to danger, turmoil—the abyss. “Those bright colors are your entryway to feeling comfortable with the work,” she says. “They’re giving you this feeling of warmth and happiness.” Her work has particular resonance at a time when we are all struggling to survive a global pandemic. “The human condition is: we continue on,” she says. “No matter how bad it gets, we keep going. I’m working towards the belief that things will always get better.”

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