FANTAST IN FOCUS: HEATHER THEURER
Heather Theurer’s art combines the best of high fantasy with mythic and religious symbolism. In her oil paintings, the heavenly clashes with the infernal, and dragons, devils, and angels have it out as they contest for the salvation of souls. Heather hails from the idyllic town of Paradise, Utah, and, perhaps not coincidentally, her creations conjure up some of the themes of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We caught up with Heather to ask her about her representational art and her work with FantasyCon and Disney.
C: Which works of literature would you say have been the most
influential on your artworks?
H: The Holy Bible, Jane Austin’s works, The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas’ other stories), Lewis Carroll’s books (Alice in Wonderland, etc). In short, a lot of classics–which probably accounts for the classical realism that dominates my work. But I also love some modern works as well, by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and a fun series by Tony DiTerlizzi: The Spiderwick Chronicles. I’m pretty eclectic.
C: You’ve lived in Salt Lake City and Paradise, two extraordinary
beautiful cities of the American West. How did the regional landscapes
shape your early imagination?
H: Oh, they shaped much of it! When I lived in Salt Lake City, it was in a house wedged between a thousand others in the Avenues. Periodically, my family would take an adventure out into the mountains that surrounded the Salt Lake Valley, but that wasn’t enough to feed my imagination’s hunger. That was what the backyard was for. My father loved nature and, much to the chagrin of our neighbours, let our backyard overgrow with pines and oaks and thick vines draped over the fences and up into the limbs of the trees. It was there that I built my own little worlds to which I escaped with regularity. I had seven other siblings and seclusion was sparse, but I created secret little hideaways where no one could find me and that is where I would draw and imagine and get lost in places that didn’t exist anywhere but in my head. When I was eleven, we moved out to the countryside to a place called Paradise, and in every sense of the word, it was (and is).
H: During the summers, I would hike alone up into the hills or down to the river and stay for hours, with just the fresh air, singing birds and the occasional fox for company. It was also during those summers that I would wake long before any other kids would (heck, they weren’t in school, so why get up if you don’t have to?), grab a chair, a pad of paper and colored pencils to record the colors of the sky as the sun rose up over the mountains or the light as it glowed through the slightly transparent blades of grass. There was much I discovered about the world around me and about myself during those quiet hours which have gone on to shape what I create and why.
C: Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist?
H: Absolutely. You know how parents are–and my parents were much the same–when they lean down to their small child, who is four or five perhaps, and ask, “sweetie, what would you like to grow up to be”? My answer? “I’m going to grow up to be a famous artist someday.” And often as parents will, they very kindly patted me on the head and responded, “Oh, that’s nice”, most likely not expecting anything to come of it, as much as most little girls don’t go on to become ballerinas and little boys don’t go on to become astronauts. But art was in my blood. I would draw all the time. I would draw on anything and everything. (Ask my mother, she’ll tell you of all the times she or I would spend scrubbing walls and tabletops clean). My schoolwork was invaded by doodles and my mother’s keepsake coffers grew increasingly throughout my youth. My father, who was a professor of engineering, a student of physics and mathematics, and an inventor, enquired of me when I was getting ready to graduate high school and looking at colleges whether I would choose to follow in his footsteps. I had to disappoint. I still wanted to be an artist. But both of my parents appreciated my vigour for creativity and supported my choice. Looking back over the years since then, though, I am surprised at how much my father’s influence and career affected what I produced. To him, logic was beautiful and physics was creative. For what I do, I may not apply a formula or be able to recite a specific theory of physics, but everything I create has its origins in reality and is governed by logic, a natural side-effect of the culture of my family and my desire to make the “reality” in my imagination a reality in paint. In short, being an artist is an extension of me; it is the clearest way to express who I am and to visualise the alternate universes that spawn inside my imagination, and that is all I wanted to do from the time I was a child.
C: How did you first get involved with FantasyCon?
H: The CEO and founder of FantasyCon, Joshua Patel, according to his story, had tried multiple times to get me to be a part of his brainchild, without any luck. It wasn’t until summer of 2013, however (according to my recollection), that he tracked me down at San Diego Comic-Con, sat in my booth for an hour, and proceeded to persuade me that I should be one of his masterwork artists. Honestly, (and I hope he forgives me for saying this), I didn’t think he was for real. A lot of hype gets pushed around at that show and I was on my guard. But after purchasing eight original paintings and commissioning an oversized masterwork, I was finally convinced. The following summer (2014) I was invited to show at FantasyCon among a handful of other renowned artists, such as Donato Giancola, Justin Gerard, and Brom who had also created masterworks for the show.
C: There’s a certain duality in many of your paintings. Often it
seems that there’s a thematic struggle between the forces of light and
darkness, which are represented by angels and dragons. Would you say
that fantasy painting, for you, is also a way to visualise the
‘battlefield’ of everyday life?
H: It’s very interesting that you pose the question like that because it is exactly that. In fact, most of my “fantasy” artwork is, indeed, “representational” instead. On the flip side, I don’t purposefully use the fantasy theme as a podium to create a visual diatribe on the struggles of everyday life. Those images are, rather, a product of my own experience and the “battles” that I’ve been through; they were answers to prayers encapsulated in visual form. The wonderful thing about them taking on the fantastical or representational form that they do is that the viewer can connect and interpret them in their own way. There is a universality in the human condition that, represented in this way, can be more easily communicated and accepted than perhaps if presented in a more literal way. Again, this isn’t necessarily intentional on my part. It’s just the way the images come to me.
C: What are your upcoming projects?
H: I have loads of upcoming projects–and a hundred more inside my head. Now I just have to find the time to do them all. More immediately, I’ll be working on a new piece for Disney. Sorry for the cliff-hanger, but I’m required to refrain from sharing what it is. After that, I’ll be starting on a religious piece based on a New Testament story and then moving on to another masterwork for FantasyCon 2016. In the midst of those, I’ll be throwing in a couple of smaller pieces and hoping to have just a little bit of a life on the side. 🙂