We had the good fortune of connecting with Shelley Heffler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shelley, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Born and raised in the Bronx, kids were not under the scrutiny of watchful eyes. I was free to explore the city’s five boroughs. At 6 years old, I was able to decipher the New York city subway maps. I rode the subways to the Staten Island Ferry, Greenwich Village, discovered the Metropolitan Museum of Art and galleries that surrounded Central Park. Looking back now, that was very risky for a young girl. I developed street smarts where curiosity and exploration motivated me to take risks. I moved to Los Angeles where I worked designing carpets for Edward Fields. I met my first husband who was embarking on a year- long journey to travel throughout Europe, India and Central Asia. Invited to join him, I dropped everything and set off for a journey that changed my life forever. The sights and sounds of places like Kabul, Afghanistan, where you see open markets of spice trade and woven rugs, women in burkas and beggars on the street. I slept in abandoned temples and was welcomed by Sikhs at the Golden Temple. We travelled to places and met people that, in our current political state of affairs, would be dangerous to visit. Shapes and pattern design of buildings interiors and exteriors as well as the land and the people are forever etched in my mind. Upon returning to Los Angeles, I settled down. Establishing roots in Los Angeles was not easy. I had few connections to the artworld, yet continued to paint the patterns and designs inspired by my journey. It wasn’t until I found myself broke and alone and in need of a job that brought me to teaching high school ceramics. Although I never studied pottery, I forged ahead to become the go-to expert in ceramics for LAUSD. As a teacher, one needs to be flexible, create curriculum, and be inventive with materials since budgets were always tight. My art career took a detour until just a few years ago when I was able to leave teaching and be a full-time artist. I was so thrilled to be free to do what I wanted. Choosing a medium to work continues to be challenging. I painted, constructed sculpture, and made ceramics. I finally chose to paint since it was where I had the most control over material. My work has always been about people making their mark on the environment; graffiti, shifting landscapes, buildings, or disposable objects. I feel that I do take risks in my artwork, creating abstractions by cutting, crunching, weaving and shaping paintings into a kind of hybrid art. The process is sometimes the impetus for making the work. I am interested in the fragments of human imprint as the mark of connection between nature and humanity.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
• My current art is about transforming abandoned and discarded materials to create a visual stimulating image. My work is also about people making their marks on the environment, leaving their story. I obtained LGBTQ banners several years ago from the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. This led me to a new path in my artistic growth. Using a material destined for the landfill, it was apparent to me that I needed to explore the possibilities of vinyl material in an artistic viewpoint. Reclaimed billboard vinyl are message boards of societies, conjuring both time and place through a physical presence. Through the action of cutting, weaving, and shaping, I restructure and form the material as a means to express an understanding of the world around me. The original messages on the repurposed banners are given a new life in the form of the artwork and restores a sense of ownership and pride through the work. The layered gestures, collage, and textures all combined represent a visual aesthetic that is about mankind impact on society captured in time and place. We all have to think individually and collectively to cooperate and be a part, however small, of some kind of global connectivity. My journey as an artist is to provide a place of refuge for the viewer to interpret their own meaning through the work. The lessons I learned is to be grateful for what you have, follow your own path, participate in life, surround yourself with people you love and who love you, and don’t give up.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
The best places to see LA and culture is the Getty Center, Griffith Observatory and Huntington Library. Each place has special views of Los Angeles. At the Getty you can see all the way from the ocean to downtown and enjoy beautiful art. They have a wonderful elegant dining and garden terrace café. I often stroll around the central garden that hosts a walkway that winds through a variety of plants and gradually descends to a plaza, where you’ll find bougainvillea climbing through custom-made rebar trellises. The stream cascades over a stone waterfall into a pool containing a maze of azaleas. The Griffith Observatory is located in the Hollywood Hills. During the day hiking to the top is easy and you can see the Hollywood sign from the top. In the evening, the Observatory has exhibitions, planetarium and public telescopes. The night sky from this vantage point is breathtaking. Right below Griffith Observatory is Los Feliz. One of my favorite Italian eateries is Farfalla, a neighborhood trattoria, small, cozy warm atmosphere. Not to be missed is the Huntington Library which has it all, including European Art, various gardens from Japanese to the Jungle, an extraordinary library collection, and the historic garden Tea Room offering traditional English tea service.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am grateful to Marc Heffler, husband, who encourages me to do what I love and be free to choose my path. Artists work in isolation and having a community of artists is an important factor to be successful. I chose to join the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art, SCWCA, which is an organization that I am currently President. It is also a national group that recognizes the contributions of women in the arts with leadership opportunities, networking and advocates for equity in the arts for all. I am grateful for my team Karen Schifman, Dellis Frank, Melissa Reischman, Bonnie J. Smith, Sandra Mueller, Lynn Letterman and Susan Karhroody, who are my support and inspiration. A shout out to Peggy Sivert and Linda Jo Russell who work tirelessly at the SoLA Gallery engaging the community and support for local artists. I am happy to be affiliated with the Kipaipai fellows, Andi Campognene from the Lancaster Museum of Art leads the program with a team of artists and mentors that support and encourage my growth as an artist. I am also grateful for the travels I experienced, giving me insight to the world and people around us.