Yesterday I spent some time looking at work by Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline, Grace Hartigan and others – and then started this piece. Things have felt a little tight in the studio lately – could be the lack of critique, the smaller work, or myself being a little tense. I needed to loosen up a bit with the work so I just started to make something – not allowing myself to attach too much thought. I find that the work still has a more fresh feel if I don’t over plan. Over planning just causes issue — a flattening of an idea usually. So I have no idea what this will do – I am excited about the green… as it isn’t a usual color in my palette.

Witnesses by Heather Riley

Witnesses (Work in Progress)
Paper, graphite, chalk, acrylic and oil on paper
45 x 30.5 inches


Another piece affected by the land of the southwest – along with the consequences of a shifting relationship in my life. It is essentially about grief and loss, but with a wide open space to move into. I’m only in the 3rd or 4th layer, so this is just beginning.

Blue Beneath by Heather Riley

Blue Beneath (work in progress)
Oil on canvas
23.5 x 30 inches

I’ve been doing these little pieces on paper – I like doing them because they are fast and help me learn some new things for the bigger work. I seem to not want to fill up as much of the piece either, which is odd considering in the large work I find myself getting dense relatively easily. They are a bit like sketching for me – small, wonderful drawings about my larger work.

Get Newsy by Heather Riley

Get Newsy
Paper, sticker, graphite, acrylic and oil on paper
6 x 4 inches

A Story in Progress by Heather Riley

A Story in Progress
Paper, chalk, string, graphite, acrylic and oil on paper
6 x 4.5 inches

A few weeks back we took another trip to the southwest. There is something about the place itself that is clear, calm and warm. The colors are finding their way into my work and I now am starting to understand why Santa Fe (and the southwest in general) is such a pull for artists and creative types.  The main reason we went was to see Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field – a land art installation from the late 70’s located in the middle of the desert.

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We spent a day on Canyon Road, (really you can spend all day in the galleries – there are that many) and saw a lot of interesting work. Heather Capen’s industrial paintings with the thick palette knifed paint,  Daniel Brice’s works on paper and Renata Aller’s humbling and heart stopping photographs of the sea. I stood in front of Aller’s photographs for a long while — it was truly like being at the ocean — in a magical, time-stopped way. I couldn’t escape the gallery without buying a book of her work. If you haven’t been to Santa Fe to see the art – stop doing whatever you are doing and go.

After our time in Santa Fe we set off through the desert to the town of Quemado – about a 4 hour drive. The drive takes you through the Malpais National Monument – which is some of the most beautiful country I’ve seen.

The Lightning Field

I made it a point of not looking for photos of the lightning field before we went to see it — I wanted to keep my reaction unclouded — I wanted to be able to experience it as I think I was meant to. When it was built (or completed rather) in 1977 – a few weeks before I was born – the internet obviously didn’t exist so there wasn’t a way to experience it any other way than by visiting it. It is one of the few places I have been in my life where I don’t know where it is, I could not get back there by myself again, and I was only allowed to stay for a set amount of time – for a set purpose. It is like a hidden art monastery in the desert – or at least that is how it felt to me. You can hear the silence there. Your phone for some reason loses all of it’s battery power very quickly. There isn’t need for thinking or planning, much is taken out of your control. There is only the land, the sky, and 400 steel rods standing as sentinels in the vast New Mexico desert.

The first question you get when you explain the installation to others is, “Did you see any lightning?” This isn’t the right question to be asking. “What was your experience?” would be more apt. It was about much more than lightning – for me it involved perspective, light, shifting sight, silence, the environment and our place in the world. It was an extremely centering and balancing experience. And I’ve never seen so many stars in my life – not even in the farmland of Nebraska.

I hope to return to the Lightning Field again in this lifetime — once was not enough.

The 3rd Street Gallery, which I am a member of, recently did an amazing renovation of it’s back room, changing it from a storage area to a showing space. As a group we decided that it would be very cool to have small works shows in there for the membership. The first show opens this Friday – along with works by Priscilla Snow Algava and Rhea Dennis in the large gallery. Below is the piece I did for the small works show – stop by to check it out!

"Morning" by Heather Riley, a local Philadelphia artist

Graphite, conte, ink, paper, acrylic and oil on paper
5.5 x 4.5 inches

In my studio work post school, where I have more time to work on pieces, I have discovered that I can take something off the easel that I am dissatisfied with and set it aside. I rediscover it later and sometimes the timing is right and the piece does what it finally needs to do. This was the case with Notes (4). I knew when I first thought it was finished, that I was unsettled with it. Now I know it is what it is supposed to be. Happy as a clam with this one now. Don’t forget to check out the before

Notes (4) by Heather Riley a local Philadelphia Artist

Notes (4)
Paper, graphite, metal, ink, acrylic and oil on panel
24 x 18 inches

These two panels started with collage on an acrylic wash background that I like to work on. From there I got into scraping paint on them with a palette knife – next I will be drawing back into them, painting more into them as well. They are in the beginning stages so stay tuned…

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Stoplights at Dusk
Paper, graphite, acrylic and oil on wood panels
20 x 32 inches (diptych)

My works continue to be about cities, objects and belonging to those spaces. This piece is in the middle ground of progress for now – I’m not as sure where it will go — I am just trying to not get too busy with it — to micro. I find myself between to warring sides – space and full. I like this dichotomy in the work… the trick is to know when to stop. It seems that’s always the trick.

Smokey City by Heather Riley, local Philadelphia Artist

Smokey City
charcoal, graphite, glued paper, acrylic and oil on paper
41 x 22.5 inches

Working smaller allows for a nice amount of experimentation and little pressure… a nice respite from doing the larger work. I do them for friends and when I am feeling stuck with the larger work — helps me loosen up! I have also taken to carving some relief blocks of buildings… it would be nice to have a little collection to be able to print in other works.

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I have always liked getting and sending mail – so once I graduated from school I thought it would be cool to share a sketchbook with a few of my former classmates. I realize this isn’t a new idea — but who cares? I think it is a good way to keep you sketching and accountable, and a great way to get some feedback. Plus you get mail! Here is the first of my sketches – the sketchbook itself is already in the mail to Pittsburg, PA. I will be putting up other artist’s sketches on processprocess as well – more fun to see the whole book I think!

Shared Sketch 01 by Heather Riley

Shared Sketch 01
graphite, colored pencil, cut paper, chalk, india ink and block ink on paper
8.5″ x 11″

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