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Artist Heidi Whitman

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Home » Art and Style » MapQuesting the Mind: Artist Heidi Whitman

Ma p Q u e s t i n g t h e M i n d : A r t i s t He i d i W h i t m a n W i t h a c a r t o g r a p h e r ’s e ye a n d a n e x p l o re r ’s s o u l , He i d i W h i t m a n p l u m b s t h e rel a t i o n sh i p b e t w e e n e x t e r n a l a n d i n t e r n a l w o rl d s .

Te x t b y L o u i s P o s t e l

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Artist Heidi Whitman

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Artist Heidi Whitman

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Artist Heidi Whitman

How do you paint what’s going on in side your skull? Heidi Whit man c omes from a long line of ar t i sts who make such

invi sible things vi sible. In four teenth- c entury Florenc e, the architec t and painter Giotto di B ondone thawed out frozen-

fac ed divines w ith a human warmth. Painters such a s Mary Ca ssatt and Henri Mat i sse infused pic tures w ith light and

movement . L ater, in the twent ieth c entury, Elaine and Willem de Kooning , Jackson Pollock , and Franz Kline made

paint ing itself an event that would la st long pa st their lifet imes.

In the same t radit ion, Whit man perform s the magic of bringing un seen networks, both internal and external, to life. In

c ompari son, an f MRI scan i s but a pale shadow. Take away the hard matter of our skull s, says Whit man, and observe how

the networks w ithin us enmesh them selves w ith the networks outside: st reets and t rain t racks, sw itchbacks and

footpath s, rooftops and road sig n s. No matter how met iculously an archaeologi st rec ord s hi s digs through ancient ruin s,

the c onflat ion of brain in side to world outside requires the imaginat ion and draw ing prowess of a Whit man to describe.

Whit man di sc overed her love for draw ing while in film school in New York . She realized that , unlike film, draw ing didn’t

involve perpetually rai sing fund s, or working w ith stubborn machines. She delighted in the fac t that all draw ing a sked of

her wa s to maintain a direc t c onnec t ion between brain, eye, and hand.

In 198 0, she g raduated from B oston’s S chool of the Museum of Fine Ar ts and shor tly thereafter joined its faculty. Her

draw ings, paint ings, and paper c on st ruc t ion s are show n in the U. S. and abroad, most rec ently at TAG Fine Ar ts in

L ondon, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Ar t in Kan sa s City ; her work al so hangs in a mult itude of private and

c orporate c ollec t ion s.

In her S outh B oston studio, piec es from her latest paper- c on st ruc t ion work , L ost Cities , are pinned to the freshly

painted wall s, one on top of another, old- school- salon style. Whit man c on siders the net of shadows ca st by the piec es a s

a key medium in her mi xed-media c on st ruc t ion s and ma shups, a s elemental a s paper, paint , canva s, and glue.

Maps — of c ontemporary city g rid s, of ancient ruin s, and of the human brain— are a sourc e of in spirat ion for Whit man.

Mappamundi 3 , for example, w ith its int ricate, fragile, interc onnec t ing paper lines, illust rates her c ombined pa ssion for

ancient world s and the cla ssical car tog raphy that i s suggest ive of the mind’s mysterious terrain. “I have always been in

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Artist Heidi Whitman

love w ith maps,” she says. “Even a s a little girl, I loved those stories featuring maps — Treasure Island , Winnie the Pooh . I

got so into mapping brain s, people star ted a sking if there wa s something going w rong w ith mine.”

Under Whit man’s studio worktable lies a cardboard box of scraps, bits of canva s, old map shred s, odd papers she had

painted for other projec ts. Such wa ste you c ouldn’t paw n off on Goodw ill, but w ith an X-ACTO knife (rout inely “using

up zillion s of blades”), t iny sci ssors, and a glue gun, Whit man t ran sform s it all into cri sp topog raphies and t rac eries of

the mind, g rid s of pure c on sciousness.

Thi s i s not to say that the work i s w ithout humor. In her c on st ruc t ion t itled L ost City of G , a t rain t rack lead s

inc ong ruously nowhere, mocked by an upside - dow n palm t ree. L oops, marshes, sw itchbacks, and various topog raphical

markings cause a double take: are they real, or merely symbol s standing in for mental ac t ivity? In L ost City of G , the

c olors are of the deser t , which, explain s Whit man, i s hardly c olorless. Her t ravel s through various deser ts taught her that .

A rec ent sojourn in Cent ral A sia in spired L ost City of G ’s palette of sand, blue, g reen, orange -brow n, and slic es of red.

How many other lost cit ies lie under those Cent ral A sian sand s, or under the ent ire spinning crust of our planet , for that

matter? And how w ill they seek out the networks in our mind s to make some unifying c onnec t ion? Conversely, what do

our mind s yearn for, one wonders —what do our memories hold, our dream s c onflate, what happenings w ithin and

w ithout our skull s t rigger us, deaden us, c onfuse us, uplift us, and awaken us to ar t ? Whit man’s ar t explores those

very quest ion s. •

Editor’s note: Heidi Whit man i s represented by Carroll and S on s, B oston, carrolland son s.net . To see more of her work ,

vi sit heidiwhit man.c om.

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Artist Heidi Whitman Maps the Mind  

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Artist Heidi Whitman Maps the Mind  

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