The Augment Review

Artist Spotlight: Heather Bjornlie

Posted December 24, 2020

Heather Bjornlie is a multimedia artist who explores the best way to communicate ideas through the pliability of fibers, the traditions of metalsmithing, and the layers of painting. Her work is forthcoming in Issue I: Indulge. We contacted her and asked her a few questions about her background and process.

What’s your artistic background?

I have always been interested in art. Even as a kid, my teachers would tell my parents that I spent too much time doing art and not enough time on the other subjects. My grandpa taught me how to paint when he realized I had a creative streak.

I spent 3 years at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, trying to obtain a degree in science because it was the smart thing to do. My senior year I threw it all out the window and decided to spend the next 4 years getting my Bachelors in Fine Arts with a minor in Art History. ISU’s art program was very diverse! I learned metalsmithing, drawing, painting, natural dyes, paper making, loom work, printmaking, and sculpture/casting. Studying art was the best decision I have ever made.

In a couple sentences, how would you describe yourself and what you do?

I like to explore techniques, and see how each medium can show different ideas. For example, my favorite medium is metal, because it can be cold and unforgiving. But it can also be pliable, soft, and shimmering. These techniques can give way to emotions, implied sound, and textual quality that you may not get with painting.

Why do you do what you do?

I create because it's what makes me happy. It is pretty simple. Why do something that leaves you anxious, when you can be proud of your work and share it with others? Hopefully what I create can bring people happiness as it does me.

We noticed that jellyfish seem to be integral to a lot of your work. Could you describe your interest in these animals and what they mean to you? How do they inform your art?

Wow, what a loaded question! Jellyfish are definitely a huge obsession in my works due to several factors. The first is the question that I am still trying to explore, how can a creature with no brain, spine, or nervous system be the longest living multicellular organism on earth? These delicate creatures have thrived in the harshest environments that have killed the fiercest predators, by flowing with their situations. They don’t fight the outcome. This mindset is what helps me explore my artistic instincts, and find peace when I am going through hard times.

We also noticed that you seem to work in 3D and mixed media a lot; why is that? Is there anything specific you like about working in 3D/mixed media?

I love working with mixed media to explore boundaries. How can I push my message to the audience in a different form of communication? Oftentimes, we don’t just see things, we experience art with our other senses. Lasting impressions can be stronger if you allow the piece to be touched, worn, walked around or through, if it has a smell or sound. Even when creating the works, I enjoy the *ting ting* of a hammer on metal, the vibrations being absorbed up my arms, the warmth of the fire. All of these sensations can be felt for the viewer as well if it is portrayed correctly.

Are there any other subjects that you focus on creatively ? Is there anything you’d like to explore in the future?

I want to keep exploring my jellyfish subject. As I dig into one question, I get faced with other questions. It is like picking a video to watch on Youtube. Before you know it, you have fallen down a rabbit hole and spent hours on topics diverted from your original search. Sometimes, I do need a break from jellies, and I find myself working on human anatomy, pet portraiture, and complications of family dynamics.

Who are your biggest influences and inspirations?

I have three major influences that I like to gather from. The first is the American painter, Wyland. He creates massive works on buildings that draw attention from viewers world wide. One can only marvel at the undulating water patterns, and the beauty in conservation that he highlights on. The second is the local acrobatic troupe, Stasia Acrobats, based in Idaho Falls Idaho. When I need to study determination, heart, and the raw power of the human body, they are my go to circus people. The third is the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt. Studying his works and writing is what made me comfortable in exploring my multimedia practice. As LeWitt best put it in his essay, Sentences on Contemporary Art, “Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken), to physical reality, equally.”

How has your art and creative process evolved over time? What do you believe has led to this evolution?

When I first started my journey I had to learn how to do art by imitating others. In some ways we artists will never fully escape that. Subconsciously we will see an image, or hear a tune, and have those bits of memory resurface later when we are searching for inspiration to draw from. Over time though, I believe that my works have started to develop less and less from other influences, and more from the pieces that I have already created.

What are you currently working on? Do you have any plans for projects?

Currently I am trying to create impasto paintings from an aerial view of frothy water. Once I can consistently find techniques to transport my audience from their homes to the warm beaches in their memories, I want to start incorporating the thick, bubbling caps into my jellyfish works.

Speaking of projects, what would be your dream project to work on?

My dream project would be to create a large scale, permanent and interactive installation in a public environment. Providing a place to both be educated on the life lessons from jellyfish, and to experience a different world. A way to provide relief from the humdrum of our everyday routines. Imagine walking through a space with water wave lights dancing on the walls, smells of the ocean and warm sands easing your senses, hearing the sounds of calming bubbles in water. All while being surrounded by interactive exhibits on jellyfish. That total package experience is my dream project.

Any advice for young artists?

I have three tips for any artist out there, professional or amatuer. First you need to find a community of artists who share your interests. That way you can reach out to them when you need to work out an idea, or need help finding out why your piece just doesn’t look right. Having a fresh pair of eyes that share similarities to you can be exactly what you need to dig out of a funk. The second thing is to find a community of artists who you mutually respect, but may not agree with their style or presentation. This will allow you to be pushed to think outside of your comfort zone, and try different approaches you may not have thought of on your own. The last thing to do is probably the easiest said, but the hardest to follow. Stop listening to others, and stop listening to your self doubt! If you want to be an artist when others say it's foolish. Do it anyways. If you want to start a project that you think you can’t complete. Do it anyways. If you want to enter a show but don’t think you will be accepted. Stop caring, just do it. And by all means, make sure you are having fun doing it!