Self-Portraits for All Seasons

Philadelphia-based artist Daniel Heyman makes his way to the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum at Flagler College for “Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring,” an exhibit featuring four large-scale self-portraits based on the seasons. This is Heyman’s first showing in Florida. The exhibit also features a group of gouache portraits from the artist’s “Military Assault” series. Originally from Long Island, the 49-year-old earned an MFA from the University of Pennsylvania and is a cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College. Known mostly as a painter and printmaker, Heyman has shown work at Laband Gallery at Loyola Marymount University, California, List Gallery at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College, and Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He currently teaches at Rhode Island School of Design, Princeton University, University of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Folio Weekly: You show a lot at colleges and universities. Is that on purpose or by chance?

Daniel Heyman: You know, a lot of colleges and universities are interested in my work because it can tie in — in all different ways — to curriculum. One thing that happens with university galleries and college galleries is that they’re not driven by sales in any way. So my work, which is not necessarily very sellable, it’s not an impediment, whereas in a commercial gallery, it might be somewhat of an impediment.

F.W.: Tell me a bit more about your “Portraits of Iraqis” project. Did you conduct the interviews of Iraqi detainees yourself or did you listen to recordings that the detainees’ American lawyers already had?

D.H.: Neither one. I went with the lawyers to the Middle East. Not to Iraq, but to Jordan first and then to Turkey. And the Iraqis came up from Iraq for three or four days for the interviews. The lawyers did the interviews, and I sat in on the interviews and did the [art]work during the interviews. So, there was no recording of anything. The lawyers took notes … and they invited me to come in and sit in on their initial interviews with their witnesses.

F.W.: Was it hard to concentrate on your artwork during these interviews?

D.H.: I think that art is something that’s supposed to get deep down into some emotions because it really helps us process things that are difficult in a way. So, listening to the testimony and doing something at the same time was actually not difficult. It actually made it easier. So the tragedy — it was in the paper again today — American soldiers torturing people in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo and whatever, it’s a deep scar in our country, and I think that there are a lot of people who would like to understand it better.

F.W.: For your exhibit in St. Augustine, the main portion of your work is the four seasons as self-portraits.

D.H.: Yes, I’m so excited that it’s not about the Iraqis. I mean, I’ve done many many shows about the Iraqis, and I’m really interested in this new work, so I’m very excited that Flagler [will] put it on.

F.W.: Now, you get to talk about yourself. That’s even scarier.

D.H.: Well, yes and no. There are four seasonal self-portraits, and each one has a season: summer, fall, winter and spring. Each one is obviously me, and each one’s out of a different material or the material is used differently. And each one of them kind of has a secondary story and a third — a tertiary story. So, if you look at them as a whole, they’re seasons. They’re also life cycles.