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Heather V. McLeod: AAN Featured Artist


ACK Artists

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We are thrilled to collaborate with the Artists Association of Nantucket this year to feature their talented artist members. The AAN is a non-profit organization supporting Nantucket artists, providing educational programs in the arts, and preserving the legacy of Nantucket artists. Visit their website, their gallery at 19 Washington Street, their studio at 24 Amelia Drive, or give them a call at (508) 228-0294.

Meet the Artist
This month’s “Meet the Artist” interview is with Heather V. McLeod.

Heather V. McLeod

Heather, you primarily work in figurative mode. What started you on this direction in painting?

I have always been interested in the figure. When I first started making art I was drawing and painting portraits. I loved the challenge of capturing someone’s likeness and expression. I liked the idea of pressing pause on our everyday lives and capturing one person at one moment in time. I was interested in capturing their physical likeness, but as my work developed, I became more interested in portraying their character and story.

What has art education added to your skill set?

I studied at Rhode Island School of Design and The New York Academy of Art and both taught me so much.

RISD taught me how to problem solve and master the basics of drawing and painting. It also allowed me to experiment with just about anything I was interested in from printmaking and puppetry to digital illustration. While I don’t immediately use all of the skills I learned there, they always pop up in unexpected ways and inform how I approach different projects. Most importantly though, RISD taught me an incredible work ethic and is probably the reason why I feel guilty if I am not painting until 11pm every night. 

NYAA really strengthened my drawing and painting skills. They teach anatomy, direct and indirect painting techniques, and the importance of working from life. It was here that I really found my rhythm in painting and was able to find the themes I was interested in exploring. They taught me to think about art differently, reference art history and contextualize my work in relation to the contemporary art scene.

You have a continuing series showing folks obscured by leafy patterns, flowers, rear views, etc. Can you talk about the themes are you exploring in these?

All of my figurative paintings tend to follow the themes of concealment, fragility and ideas surrounding relationships. I think about how symbolism can be used to enhance the narrative of a painting and how different objects can add to the story being told. My most recent apple tree foliage references the story of Adam and Eve. Two figures engulfed in apple tree leaves surround themselves with this idea of temptation that both separates and obscures the view of the figures.

The figures with the flowers over their faces act in a similar way. Jasmine flowers symbolize one’s first love marked by innocence and pure feelings which I use to enhance the story of a young schoolgirl navigating her first crush.

I like the idea that paintings can exist as beautiful objects to admire at a glance or reward the viewer with deeper exploration. The use of symbolism in objects and foliage offers that possibility. 

 You recently received a Fulbright Grant to study in Italy. Tell us what that experience entailed.

I received a Fulbright grant to study art in Perugia, Italy. Perugia is this picturesque little Italian city halfway between Rome and Florence. I was given the funding and freedom to simply explore for almost a year. To say it was heaven is an understatement.

At the time I was really interested in how our physical bodies were separate from our personalities and different ways we could try to represent both. I was painting a lot but had recently started to explore similar ideas in puppetry so that’s what I traveled to Italy to study.

I worked with a puppet maker in Perugia learning how to physically make puppets and how to project a character onto them. It was this wonderful experience where we were forced to find alternative ways of communicating when he didn’t speak a word of English and my Italian was not very strong.

I sculpted marionettes, carved wooden puppets and painted oil paintings depicting some of the same figures I was sculpting. I liked seeing how the characters of the puppets would change depending on who was manipulating them. At the end of my time there I put together an exhibition with the puppets and paintings and invited the community to participate.


What brought you to the island? How has your experience here changed your art?

I first came to the island while visiting a family friend. I immediately fell in love with it and looked to see if there was an artist community. Low and behold I discovered the Artist Association of Nantucket. I applied for their artist residency and spent my first real stretch of time on the island painting in February. I loved it.

Since then, I’ve been painting a lot more landscapes and drawing so many whales. There’s just so much to work from in terms of inspiration from the landscape that I’ve been running with it. I may have also become a little obsessed with the whales. I was really drawn to the strange and unique shape of them and of course fascinated by their history with the island. I started sketching them and this summer I’ve probably drawn about one hundred. I’m happy to say that I’ve found others who share in the whale fascination to collect the pieces, so I get to keep exploring and responding to the island.

Where can we see your work?

I exhibit my work in a lot of different venues but most of the images can be seen on my website and Instagram @heathervmcleod. I try to share all the opportunities to see my work in person in both places.

I’ve exhibited mostly in New York, but also in many other cities in the US and Europe. In Nantucket, I participate in many of the group exhibitions through The Artists Association of Nantucket and show landscape paintings at Pierce Galleries in town.