I make paintings manipulating words. I compel shapes to emerge out of those words and letterforms, commingling them in abstractions evoking my everyday sensibility. I look to elicit a eureka moment from seeing the commonplace de novo. I engage with the enigmatic, what catches me off-guard, what makes me smile, and what I encounter serendipitously. I aspire to paint abstractions exploiting ugly words, change how they are perceived, appropriate their voice and suspend their toxicity, however briefly. I believe a word’s meaning can be just a starting point, a way into the work but never the last word. 

In art school and beyond I was a figurative painter until I embraced incorporating the words and letters that were showing up in my paintings. Ultimately the figures were replaced with color-field abstractions comprised of scattered letterforms layered across the canvas. I have been furthering that exploration ever since, cannibalizing the simple poetry I discover in streams of words. 

When making a painting I follow a process, exerting what control I can although I welcome the accident. I begin a painting with specific words, there is often a grid that keeps an order to the work, I alter the paint to make it workable to my ends, and through ongoing experimentation with materials I have worked out methods that serve as a roadmap of sorts. When the elements are combining and intersecting an endless number of shapes and patterns emerge and the words fade. Different words give birth to different shapes. I find those shapes and nurture them in my paintings.

At times I use shapes I find in one painting as the foundation for another. The possibilities inherent in that connection are really exciting to me, one piece informing another and on and on. Lately, numbers have been finding their way into the paintings much as the words and letters did before, presenting me with further questions on meaning and its relevance to these abstractions.

At the same time I am working through certain issues which I feel are unique to working with words. Does the works legibility or lack thereof present a simple problem, or a greater opportunity as a tool to finesse meaning? If line, color, shape and surface become the dominant pictorial focus what effect does that have on the role of the text?

That’s a lot of what I am exploring in my practice now. Sometimes it’s work, sometimes it’s play. However the words, letterforms or numbers reach me, I work to convey that initial spark of interest through my painting. 

Gregory Hein

January 2021