Richard Heeps’ seductive, highly saturated colours and sophisticated pictorial structures demonstrate a true love for his subject matter – be it cool, descriptive interiors, still life or landscape. His distinctive style pushes the limits of lens-based photography without the need for digital manipulation. With both an upcoming solo show in Milan, and exhibiting at Affordable Art Fair Milan in January, Fair Director, Manuela Porcu caught up with Richard to ask him about both his practice and latest projects.
MEET PHOTOGRAPHER RICHARD HEEPS
1. Can you tell us a bit about your practice as a photographer?
I like my work to have a sense of a place. There are reoccurring themes in my work linking one series to another. But equally I want to capture what is intrinsically unique about a place. I like to capture imagery from the past in a way that it questions the present. I like capturing what people ordinarily overlook. I employ light, colour and composition as a primary tool to make people look differently at things.
Although I was brought up in East Anglia, I was heavily influenced by America, I visited American military bases, I kept magazine cuttings and I followed drag racing. The speed, lifestyle and technicolour is reflected in my imagery. “American” colour is a major aspect to my work, it drives my equipment and material choices.
At the age of ten I began participating in Art Shows and became comfortable with showing my work and the praise and criticism which is part of an artists’ development. In my early paintings Manhattan was a reoccurring theme, I was fascinated with New York.
In my professional career I have been lucky enough to exhibit my work in Museums and Public Galleries since the 1980’s. These days I travel exhibiting at International Art Fairs and I still enjoy connecting with my audience, I am driven to create something and see how people respond to it and how they connect to it.
2. Can you talk us through how you produce one of your works?
I shoot on film which can be a slow process, film can be precious which makes you think quite hard before you take a picture. You then have to wait for the film to be processed. My nearest processing lab these days is 80km away from me. I do have a habit of sitting on the film and then looking at the results with fresh eyes. Just recently I have released some work for the first time which was shot around the year 2000.
I have my own colour darkroom that unlike a black and white darkroom with a red light, this is complete darkness. Often printing for days at a time your mind goes to a strange place from the time spent in the tomblike darkness. I print up to 76cm by however long. I have spent years sourcing my materials, tools and suppliers in order to create a finished piece. I have always wanted to create a finished piece of art which is affordable and for ten years that has been driven by the Affordable Art Fair. My work is limited-edition and I have been lucky enough that for many years that people have connected with my work and wanted to buy it to begin or add to their collection.
I love watching history programmes and documentaries so when I am planning a shoot abroad I use these to get ideas of where to go and build an idea of a concept. On YouTube you can find really low production city guides which are great to build a sense and understanding of a place. I am always looking back through the files of my negatives and I find that influences where my eye is when I approach a project, I find that patterns that have emerged in my work come into play and I already know that is influencing what I am trying to create in Milan.
3. What inspired your special edition Milano piece?
Milan is a place I have visited many times to exhibit but I have never had a serious amount of time to shoot as well. I have ‘sketched’ things on my iPhone and in my head, this has been a long time coming and I am excited to begin what I expect will be a continuous project over the years and eventually a book.
Milan has always come across as quite hidden. Images I have made in the past of Milan have been of things illuminated at night that you can’t see in the day. I have given myself a week to shoot to get through the many layers and beneath the surface. I have a plot of a working title ‘A Short History of Milan’. I am intrigued by its industrial past, the home of the Lambretta, the combinations of brutalist, gothic and modernist architecture and it’s influence on the spirit of the city. Visually what I have also noticed is how Milan seems to sparkle and dazzle in the rain. Who knows how much this will influence the final work.
4. What do you have in store over the coming months?
I am so excited for the exhibition WEMEN at the Hotel Nhow Milano which runs till March 2019. I have stayed there a few times and it was an aspiration of mine to feature on their walls. The Congressional Centre on the first floor is a stunning space and although the work featured is circa 2003-2009 seeing them here together in this space is a whole new light on them.
The last week of January I will return to Affordable Art Fair Milano with Bleach Box Photography Gallery and will be bringing this new series of works from Milan. I look forward to the response from the Milanese crowd among who I have many collectors.
It has been a very busy year exhibiting in Europe, Asia, America and closer to home in Park Lane and the Royal Academy and at this point I have not selected which opportunities to pursue in 2019 but I will continue to develop my work in my darkroom in Cambridge and as ever look for new opportunities to publish a book.
5. Which artist has had the greatest impact on you and why?
When I was studying film, animation and photography Twin Peaks was on TV and we studied the film Blue Velvet. I am certainly inspired by the imagery of David Lynch. Recently I have enjoyed listening to his soundtracks as I work in my studio.
6. What would you say are the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of being an artist today?
I enjoy making art, it’s therapeutic. As an artist I’ve always tried to use art as a language to communicate with an audience. I like telling visual stories, creating a journey. I enjoy capturing change. My career is quite long and seeing the relevance of what I have captured come around is very interesting.
There is something about photography about how it fixes something. The most challenging thing artist for me is you always have to be progressive, to challenge yourself, to challenge your audience. A musician can have a hit song or album but to sustain a career is a huge challenge. To do this project, to come up with something good is such a pressure. If you do something rubbish it undermines what you have done in the past.
7. What advice would you give to any aspiring artists reading this interview?
At first the important thing is to get your work out there to get criticism and feedback and learn to stand with confidence in the face of it. Use that experience to become selective about the choices you make when opportunities present themselves.
Meet Richard in person and see his work at the upcoming Affordable Art Fair Milan (25 – 27 January) on the Bleach Box stand (H6).
Richard Heeps, Road to Gunsight, 2001, c-type, limited edition of 25, framed, £595, Bleach Box
Featured images from first to last:
Photographer Richard Heeps.
Richard Heeps, Anita, 1993, c-type, limited edition of 50, framed, £150, Bleach Box.
Richard Heeps on shoot in Milan.
Richard Heeps on shoot in Milan.
Richard Heeps, Eileen, 2001, c-type, limited edition of 25, framed, £150, Bleach Box.
Richard Heeps, Swim-in-Pool, 2001, c-type, limited edition of 10, framed, £1295, Bleach Box.