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Artist Heather Beardsley

Heather Beardsley (b. 1987) creates mixed-media projects in response to environmental issues. Beardsley received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. She spent 2016 in Vienna, Austria on a Fulbright Scholarship for Installation Art, and in 2017, she was awarded a year-long Braunschweig Projects International Artist Fellowship by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony, Germany. Other residencies include KulturKontakt Austria in Vienna; Shangyuan Art Museum in Beijing, China; IZOLYATSIA in Kyiv, Ukraine; and La Box in Bourges, France. 

Beardsley has shown her work both nationally and internationally, including group exhibitions at Science Gallery Dublin, Museo del Traje in Madrid and Museum Rijswijk in the Netherlands. In 2023 she had her first solo museum exhibition at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA, while in summer 2024 she will have a solo exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and an art residency at Pier2 Art Center in Taiwan.

"The series Strange Plants is inspired by a visit to Pripyat, the ghost town closest to the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Over the past thirty years nature that was destroyed by human hubris and incompetence has grown up to dominate the abandoned man-made structures there. A couple of months after the trip I began to draw and embroider plants overtaking the people and buildings onto photographs of Budapest, the city I was living in. Since then I have added images to this series with each new city my art has taken me to, including Vienna, Beijing, Chicago, Paris, Kyiv, and Las Vegas. Although presented in a whimsical fashion, using an intimate scale and a “feminine” craft technique like embroidery, on closer examination the implications of these pieces become more sinister. I also create sculptures using 3D-printed models of buildings and air-dry clay built into boxes and suitcases. The intricate hand-sculpted flora in these sculptures become self-contained worlds. The vintage suitcases evoke nostalgia and this body of work’s relationship to my personal history of travel. As plants seemingly grow uncontrollably through the buildings and streets, people are either absent or oblivious to the situation. The resulting works exist in an ambiguous space: nature has fought back and new life has grown from it."

Tell us a little about yourself (where you are from) and your background in the arts.

I am from Virginia Beach, Virginia. I've been making art for as long as I can remember because my mom was an elementary school art teacher and was doing projects with me from the time I could sit up. I did my MFA in Fibers at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and after I graduated I received a Fulbright Scholarship to make art in Vienna, Austria.

I loved living in another country and being a full-time artist, so I continued going from residency to residency without a fixed home for the next four years until the pandemic brought me back to my hometown in 2020.

What kind of work are you currently making?

I am currently making work of plants growing over streets and buildings in a wide range of media. I draw and sew directly on photographs sourced from old architecture books, I sculpt tiny leaves and grass in boxes and found objects, and I make animations of my stitches growing to overtake cities. Even though the media varies, the imagery and meticulous attention to detail remain consistent connecting the work.

What is a day like in the studio for you?

My favorite days in the studio are when I am able to experiment without a fixed goal in mind. I have so many different materials on hand to play with, I like to jump between multiple media and processes in the same day to give more variety to my hands and mind. I keep several different kinds of tea in my studio, as well as a yoga mat, to remind me to give myself breaks and take care of my body so I can keep making work for decades to come.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

I've been reading a lot of classic sci-fi. I'm currently rereading Dune because I am excited for the second movie to come out soon.

Where can we find more of your work? (ex. website/insta/gallery/upcoming shows)

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