Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
As an artist, Heather Stewart, like Whitman, happily contradicts herself.
One day, she’s at work on a large oil painting of Harvard’s Holyoke Center at night, bold brush strokes and saturated colors evoking a warmly lit cityscape. Then she might switch to watercolor, capturing the Falling Waters Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains or a seascape of Acadia National Park in Maine. An abstract sculpture might grab her imagination next, then for a break, she could do a painting on silk.
“I really think it’s OK to explore the possibilities of creativity,” she says. “A lot of times the market wants you to just do one particular thing, to find your niche and stick with that. I want to experiment, although obviously within a very realist, classical context.”
Stewart, who is an administrative assistant in University Operations Services (UOS) applied technologies team, clearly “contains multitudes.” She holds a B.F.A. in painting from Boston University and is currently working on an A.L.M. in studio arts and film through Harvard Extension School. She works at least three hours a week in her bedroom studio which, she admits, “looks like a bomb went off.” In her spare time, which she insists exists, she volunteers with a variety of arts organizations.
Stewart draws inspiration from sources as varied as her work. She cites Rembrandt, Edward Hopper, Frida Kahlo, and Pablo Picasso (“but then I read more of his biography than I probably needed to,” she says) as artistic influences. The organic forms of natural landscapes and nude figures interest her, but so do the inorganic lines of buildings and streets.
“Architecture is a man-made form, but when you populate it, I think it becomes organic,” she says. Stewart worked for a time at the Boston Architecture Center; she uses architectural modeling techniques in her sculptures. Another job at the Boston Conservatory tapped into her love of music and challenged her to incorporate musical ideas like rhythm, patterns, and harmony into her visual work.
Stewart sells her work regularly and exhibits widely throughout New England; she had a show at Harvard Neighbors in fall 2002. She’s done illustrations, murals, and a CD cover and fantasizes, like most artists, that she may one day be able to make a living from her art.
“But one of the nice things about having a job is that you’re not isolated from people and you’re in tune with practical concerns,” she says, adding that her workaday skills have helped her with the business side of her art.
Stewart likens juggling a job and an artistic life to the creative contradictions of her artwork. “It’s kind of a nice way of keeping a diversity in your life,” she says. “It’s a kind of balance.”