Thursday, January 22, 2015

Artist's Touch: Embracing a natural humanity

Heather Clements at work.
‘HUMAN NATURE’
What: Solo exhibit by artist Heather Clements (HeatherClementsArt.com)
Where: Amelia Center Main Gallery, Gulf Coast State College, 5230 West U.S. 98, Panama City
When: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday (regular gallery hours) through Feb. 14; Clements will present a lecture 1-2 p.m. Jan. 30; the gallery will have an opening reception 5-7 p.m. Jan. 30
Admission: Free to exhibit and events
Details: GulfCoast.edu/arts or 872-3886


PANAMA CITY — Heather Clements sat at a cafe table in CityArts Cooperative on a recent rainy morning to discuss the illusion of our place in the world and how she tries to express that through her art.

For several years, her focus has been on the intersection between humanity and the greater world — often depicted by melding the human form with trees, flowers and animals.

“The main concept is environmental, the blur between humans and the rest of Nature,” she said. “The idea of ‘Human vs. Nature’ is an inane statement. We are Nature.”

The Visual and Performing Arts Division of Gulf Coast State College is hosting “Human Nature,” an exhibition of Heather’s drawings, Jan. 26 through Feb. 14. The exhibit, including several new pieces never before shown to the public, will be on display in the Amelia Center Main Gallery (room 112) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday (regular gallery hours).

In addition, Heather will present a lecture from 1-2 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Amelia Tapper Center, room 128. An opening reception will be 5-7 p.m. the same day. Admission is free for the exhibit, lecture and reception.

“...Humans are not separate from Nature, but a part of Nature,” Heather said in promotional materials for the show. “I believe in order to have the motivation to innovate for a sustainable future, we not only need to understand the facts, but have a full perspective shift that embraces the awe-inspiring symbiosis we share with the rest of nature. My art explores how beautiful and euphoric it can be to reconnect with our natural world.”

Work by Heather Clements
Originally from northern Virginia, Heather attended art school in Baltimore, Md., graduating cum laude. But she had no idea what to do with her degree — “or my physical body,” she said.

“I didn’t want to go back home,” she said. “I wanted to move forward rather than backward.”

A friend was moving to Panama City, a place Heather said she’d never heard of before, and she joked about moving with her to be by the beach. Heather contacted several galleries in the area, and the owner of The Gallery Above on Harrison Avenue (now the A&M Theatre) offered her a solo show.

Shortly thereafter, he handed the whole gallery over to her. She ran it as a community arts hub from 2007 to mid-2009, with monthly exhibits, themed shows, open mic nights, touring bands, indie films, swing dance lessons, performance art events and much more.

“It has been a place for people to come with an open mind and experience unique and creative things,” Heather told me as the closing loomed that summer, adding that she was proud of the “real creativity and thoughts and emotion and feeling in the art.”

Heather went on to offer drawing classes at the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida, where she also served as the exhibitions manager and graphic designer. In 2010, she became a director at CityArts Cooperative, where her husband, Mat Wyble, now runs Mat’s Good Coffee. The changes in her life have reflected in her work.

“Before college, my art really wasn’t about anything. I was experimenting with light, color, texture. Honing my technical skills,” she said. “In college, I started to stretch and learn conceptually, how to make my art about something.”

But in her last years of college and immediately after, Heather’s art was about Heather.

“I was working through my issues,” she said. “Art would tell me what was going on in my head when I couldn’t figure it out for myself.”

In her time living in Panama City, Heather’s art has gone through definite periods of focus: portraits, octopi, and paper cuts, for example. For her new exhibition, she returned to her “first love” — drawing.

She works from reference photos, and she wants her human models to be completely natural (no makeup and no styled hair). She doesn’t draw them thinner than they are, and she doesn’t remove freckles or wrinkles.

“Ever since I was little, my art focused on the human figure,” she said. “Maybe it’s egotistical of us, to be a human and draw humans, but that’s what’s important to us — ourselves.”

But the most important reason Heather’s work forces viewers to examine their relationship with the natural world:


“There are a lot of things wrong in the world,” she said, “but none of them matter if we don’t have a world to live on.”
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