George Washington Melted
The image on left might seem like an image of a perfectly ruined George Washington Portrait but you'd be amazed to know that this portrait was made this way!

This artwork belongs to a Brooklyn-based artist,Valerie Hegarty who tears, burns and damages her own artwork.

Valerie describes her artwork as living things undergoing change.Valerie's artwork is all conceptual and her subject choice is rather traditional like portraits and landscapes.

Most of her artwork is inspired by her own past, art history, cinematic devices and narrative fiction. Though her artwork looks perfectly ruined but it leaves the viewer awestruck. That's what happened to me as well!

Her artwork comprises of copied and modified old paintings that look totally damaged by water, fire, explosion or birds, decomposed and regenerating stuff.

Valerie has exhibited here work internationally and she has also been awarded grants like the first Campari Commission Grant and the Tiffany Foundation Grant. She created a commissioned public project on the High Line in New York City and her work can be seen in the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum. Read on to know more about Valerie in our exclusive interview with her.

1. Hi Valerie, please introduce yourself to our readers.

Hi, my name is Valerie Hegarty and I'm a visual artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. I am represented by Nicelle Beauchene gallery in NY on The Lower East Side.

2. What inspired you to become an artist or were you always inclined towards art? What are the various artforms you dabble in?

Growing up, I always loved to draw and paint and make weird things out of household materials. I was happiest as a kid in the basement making crafts on the ping-pong table. I didn't know that people actually could do that as grown-ups. I took my first real art class as a Sophmore in college and felt like I had finally found where I belonged.

My work takes various forms such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and installation. I also have done a lot of creative writing/short fiction and dabbled in video.

Thanatopsis: Installation View

3. Your choice of subject for each of your projects is interesting, how do you decide upon what subject and medium for your artwork?

I tend to explore traditional subject matter, such as portraiture, landscape and still life. I'm interested in re-interpreting these subjects through a contemporary lens. I am thinking about these subjects while reacting to current events, my personal history, art history, cinematic devices and narrative fiction (especially my love of magic realism).

4. Your Chinese Wallpaper (Flood Damaged) project looks amazing. It actually resembles a damaged wall. What techniques did you use to create such realistic artwork?

The technique is actually quite simple and doesn't damage the wall at all. It's a process I was using with my earlier installation work that I called "reverse archaeology". Basically I would paint large strips of paper (like home-made wallpaper) and then glue the paper in layers on the wall. First I staple a protective layer of fabric or Tyvek so the wall isn't affected, then I glue the paper in layers—for the Chinese Wallpaper installation, first there was a layer of brown paper, then a layer of green paper, then a layer of paper that I painted a Chinese silk wallpaper design on to, then a layer of white to approximate the gallery wall. Once it is dry, I wet the paper again and scrape at it with a paint scraper to create the illusion that I am going under the surface of the wall. Although the final piece looks subtractive to the wall, it is really additive, like a collage.

Chinese Wallpaper (Flood Damage) installed in private collector's kitchen

5. What's the story behind the projects featuring exploded fruits like the Exploded Watermelon on Picnic Blanket and Exploding Peaches in BasketProject?

With these projects I was interested in creating/experimenting with contemporary still life paintings. I was looking at traditional still lives that often involved bowls of fruit on a tablecloth. So with Exploded Watermelon on Picnic Blanket I used an actual tablecloth placed on the floor and thought of the piece like an Ab Ex painting that had explosions of watermelon instead of explosions of paint. Although the watermelon was sculptural, it was very painterly so the piece was also a painting with the tablecloth functioning as the canvas. I was also referring to the famous picnic painting "Dejeuner sur l'herbe" and current news headlines of exploding watermelon crops that was a phenomenon happening in China and Mexico when the fruit was sprayed with the wrong growth hormone causing the insides to grow faster than the outsides. The metaphoric content of still lives is generally about transience of life and the fruit can refer to parts of the body, like the peach referencing breast, watermelon referencing head and apple referencing cheek, so I was also thinking of the explosion of bodies with warfare and disease, with the picnic blanket reminding me of a sheet you would use to cover a destroyed or decaying body.

Exploded Watermelon on Picnic Blanket
Exploded Peaches in Basket

6. Your Autumn on The Hudson valley with Branches project is beautiful. What is this project about?

The piece was created specifically for The High Line (it was a commission by the Friends of the High Line as an outdoor public sculpture on-site for one year). The High Line is an old railroad track running above the West side of Manhattan that has been abandoned for years—decaying and growing wild until its recent renovation and reuse. I wanted the piece to look like a nineteenth century Hudson River School landscape painting that had been tossed or fallen out of a train car and had been abandoned like the site itself. I wanted the viewer to be drawn in by this curious artifact and have to wonder about veracity of object and the transformation. The painting is based on Jasper Francis Cropsey's Autumn on the Hudson River of 1860, a bucolic landscape that shows none of the affects of the Industrial Revolution. The canvas is tattered and frayed, and the partially exposed stretcher bars appear to be morphing into tree branches, as if reverting back to their natural state.

This is a quote from the curator of the project, Lauren Ross, "Since the nineteenth century, the Hudson has been associated both with Arcadian beauty and industrial development, perceptions both simultaneous and contradictory. Today one can view fading remnants of the river as an active shipping port, as well as recent attempts to return it to a more 'natural' state through the development of park areas and pedestrian walking paths, including the High Line itself." As Hegarty describes it, her piece will "appear as if nature has become the artist, altering the idealized image of the early American wilderness to be a more layered representation of the area and times today."

Autumn on the Hudson Valley with Branches
Autumn on the Hudson Valley with Branches

7. Some of your artwork seems destructive or perhaps a bit melancholic. Is this by design or is our interpretation flawed?

I don't set out to make a melancholic artwork, but that seems to be how things turn out. I have conceptual ideas but am also a very process oriented artist, so my work is very much "mine" in that is a channel for my internal state. I am interested in transformation so the destruction is a means to an end, to allow the piece to take on a new form, or create a ground for new things to grow. I like idea that things need to "break down" before there is a "break-through". There is also more and more work out there that references decay and destruction and I think it's also a reflection of the anxiety of our times.

Still Lives with Crows

8. What leisure activities do you like to participate in when you are not working? What do you find most relaxing?

I like to watch movies, go to museums, read, take walks in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (I live across the street), get coffee with friends. My favorite leisure activity would be taking a walk in the woods or on the beach, which I haven't had much time to do lately and can be hard to accomplish in the city.

9. What other artists do you draw inspiration from? If you could work on a joint project with one of them, who would it be and why?

This is a common interview question and I always have trouble answering it. Here's what I wrote for a previous interview (where the artists could be living or dead)

I'm not good with favorites or absolutes, there are so many people it would be amazing to work with but here's what I'm saying today. So today I will say Duchamp and maybe we would just play chess and the collaboration is our moment in time together. I would want to collaborate with someone whose media and work is different than mine, so I'd almost prefer a writer or a film-maker, like Hitchcock or Edgar Allen Poe. I don't know what the final result would be, I think that is the specialness of collaboration, that it is something completely unexpected brought about by conversation. Maybe if Poe were alive he would write a story about a painting that kills people when they look at it, maybe someone has already written this story. Then I try to make the painting which Poe looks at and then rewrites the story to include me and the new painting and then that influences how I change the painting and somehow I get caught in his story and can only get out by destroying the painting or killing Poe. Then Hitchock makes a movie about it. Or maybe that is more of a collaboration to do with Italo Calvino and Charlie Kaufman.

10. What are your future plans as an artist? Any dream project that you would absolutely love to work on?

As I am often recreating artworks from American art history, I have been wanting to work within museum collections for a while. I am very excited about the project I am working on now which will be shown in May 2013. I am creating three special projects in three historic early American period rooms in the Brooklyn Museum titled "Alternative Histories". I would love to work in the future with more museums. A dream venue would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I would insert one of my pieces within their American Collection.

11. One piece of advice that you would like to give to budding and aspiring artists?

Plan to make your best work when you are 90 years old. A fast rising star has far to fall so it is not always the best trajectory. Don't be under the illusion that you will make a fortune off your work, only a very small percentage of artists do that while the majority of artists will have to work a second job like teaching or art handling. Stay close to your community of artist peers and be generous with sharing information. Your peers will your biggest support.

Thanks Valerie for taking out the time and doing this interview with us. We'd like to wish you the very best for the future.

Stay tuned for more inspiring interview from E-junkie.

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