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  Featured Artist

Linda Heath

Artist Linda Heath in her Placitas studio (Photo credit: —Oli Robbins)

c. L. Heath

Angel’s Child, mixed media, by Linda Heath

 c. L. Heath

Blessing the Hunter, mixed media, by Linda Heath

A blending of dichotomies: The fusionist paintings of Linda Heath

—Oli Robbins

In recent years, the word “fusionist” has been used by chefs and restaurateurs to refer to cuisine that brings together food or culinary traditions from more than one culture. In the political world, a similar term, “fusionism,” signifies a coming together of conservatives and libertarians. The recent works by Placitas artist Linda Heath are reflective of artistic “fusionism”—a term used by the artist herself in reference to her newest paintings, in which she unites the photographic and the painted by positioning painted Kachina figures against photographic images of outer space. After downloading Hubble photographs from NASA’s public gallery, Heath prints the images on canvas. She then coats the canvas with an isolation layer, upon which she paints Kachina figures using acrylic polymers and oil paint. Her compositions not only fuse multiple mediums, but also the conceptual old and new. Writing about her ideas on fusionist art back in 2003, Heath said, “The hallmark of fusionism is the creation of a new wholeness that blurs the lines among different cultures, old versus new media, and human versus machine-generated work.”

Heath has always been intrigued by space, and even jokes that she should have been an astronaut. She did work for an astronaut for a period of time, as leader for the new technology group at USAA. Heath holds a degree in Math from New Mexico Tech and a Masters in Sociology from Texas Tech. She worked in the computer field until 2000, when she went back to school for art. Her long-time engagement with technology and the computer revolution likely fostered her interest in futuristic concepts.

Heath didn’t start painting until she was about thirty, when her friend invited her to join a painting group. She realized that she enjoyed it, and resolved to keep it up, at least as a hobby. When living in San Francisco in 2000, she decided it was time to pursue a higher education in art and enrolled at the San Francisco Academy of Art. She has continued her training in the past decade by taking seminars in Taos by renowned contemporary still life painters such as Gregg Kreutz and David Leffel.

The paintings in Heath’s “Ancient Spirit Series I” are a far cry from the still life and plein air paintings that comprise much of her oeuvre. Says Heath, “This is something totally different for me because I’ve been doing realistic paintings, and these are realistic, but they’re unreal.” She still draws on her classical training for this series, finding that even when she ventures into the “unreal,” she likes to have a model.

Heath first began thinking about fusionist art at the millennium, when fusion cuisine was beginning to take off. Says Heath, “I started thinking about what fusionism would mean in art. It’s hard to explain because it’s different than having a menu of different things... it’s really a blending.”

In pueblo culture, Kachinas are physical manifestations of environmental elements. Interestingly, while some legends hold that Kachinas live under lake waters, others speak of Kachinas as spirits of the sky, supernatural figures of the clouds. Kachinas are sometimes understood as embodiments of forces of nature, which assume the essence of such cosmic entities as the sun, moon, and stars. The paintings in Heath’s “Ancient Spirit Series I” depict Kachinas in the cosmos and are therefore reflective of both the artist’s inclination to bridge the past and the future, as well as this ancient mythology.

For Heath, outer space is the “positive looking out.” Says Heath, “it’s the future for us—to keep trying to get there.” When she began downloading the Hubble photographs, she recalls being “blown away.” But Heath is careful to let the Hubble photographs speak for themselves, and she patiently waits for them to convey an idea to her before beginning a painting. In fact, she spent about ten years thinking about, and looking at, the photographs before realizing how she wanted to incorporate them into her art.

It’s not just outer space that symbolizes the future for Heath, but also the computer age—newly available painting mediums and digital photographs. Heath’s works comment on the present-day coming together of these things. She arranges ancient forms alongside symbols of technology and progress, while drawing on both modern technological advancements and age-old techniques. The harmonious relationship between Heath’s Kachinas and the Hubble-generated images of infinite space that surround them seems to argue for the non-linear, boundless nature of time and space.

Heath moved to Placitas from Sausalito, in 2004, but is not new to New Mexico. She grew up here, and therefore was exposed to, and inspired by, Native American art and culture from an early age. Heath’s “Ancient Spirit Series I” will debut this May as part of The Placitas Artists Series at the Placitas Presbyterian Church.

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