Heather Hansen

Heather Hansen – Richard Street Studio commission from Heather Hansen on Vimeo.

You’re based in New Orleans now and I know that you’ve traveled a lot, where are you from originally?
From a very rural town in Idaho. I left there in 2008 and went to Paris, and then I came back here to the States in 2012. I don’t know what my accent is, everybody says I have something going on.

So, you were just out of town on a conference. What was that for?
I was invited to teach at Jacksonville University and to spend a couple of days with the visual arts students and a few days dance department. It was great fun; the dance part especially because we spent that time doing the first part of the workshop at White Oak. There’s a dance studio there that was built for Baryshnikov when he defected from Russia. This man Howard Gilman decided he would help him. He set him up in New York first then eventually he built a little retreat for him down in Florida. Then in the 90’s, Baryshnikov started a company down there. It’s no more but he still goes there and the whole area is so rich with dance culture. It’s a Mecca.

Is Baryshnikov a big inspiration to you?
Absolutely, since I was a little girl he’s always been a hero. I was like “Ah! I get to work in the same studio that Baryshnikov did!” It was surprisingly one of those things that I didn’t know I want to do.

What kind of dance did you study?
In college I focused on contemporary and then later Butoh, out of college.

Butoh is a wild dance technique; how did you discover it?
I was student directing The Tempest in college and the professor we had at the time suggested that we incorporated Butoh. I’d never heard of it so I went to see a performance in Seattle. I hated it! I was really disturbed by it actually, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Which caused me to keep investigating it. Eventually I ended up moving to Japan to study.

The most recent project you did was The Luna Series: An Exploration of Shakespeare’s Women at The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival. Another commitment to Shakespeare, do you find your work has a certain connection with his work?
It was funny when he asked because it had been a few years since I had been involved with any Shakespeare. I think it lends itself well to all kinds of experimental theatre so I tend to get involved with those. And I enjoy it. I always love hearing the monologues, its beautiful. The stories are timeless.

I was glad to see this as your most current work as I wanted to discuss how your work relates to femininity. To me, your work seems intrinsically female, mostly I feel because many of the pieces have this fluidity and shape that really conjure up images of the womb and reproduction.  Is womanhood and important influence over what you do?
In that I am a woman. I’m not thinking about stuff like that at all but I think it’s interesting that people often bring it up. It’s just a function of, first of all, that I’m a woman, and second of all, that I’m using my body to create work. It’s probably going to be inherently feminine. I taught some men this last week at the workshop and it was really interesting the see the difference.

How did you come to adopt ‘Kinetic Drawing’ as your primary style?
‘Kinetic Drawing’ is just lack of a better word, any drawing is kinetic, it could be ‘Body Drawing’ but I just stick with ‘Kinetic’. I discovered it through a series of events, the first one being when I moved here from France. I was in a year of transition. I really didn’t want to move back to the States, I came back kicking and screaming. There was a boy involved. I was just having a really hard time so I decided I needed some daily practice that would help me transition. I started to keep a journal and everyday I would dance or do yoga and draw. I decided to commit to it for a year, so I made it public and sooner or later I started winding the two together. Instead of doing one and then the other the just kind of came together. I was doing a lot of drawing in my sketchbooks to music, like dancing but just with my hands on small scale. Then I went to the beach with my son and we were playing in the sand and I was drawing with my toes. That’s kind of when I realised I should go bigger and do this with my whole body. It’s been a long process of discovery finding out what I think looks good and what just looks messy. There’s still a lot left to explore too.

And you have a son! How old is he?
A: He’s 16. He’s usually with me, he’s visiting his dad this summer in Tokyo. He’s in art school here studying Musical Theatre.

There is a huge connection with music in your performance. What kind of music is played in your pieces?
This last show was for Shakespeare, one was playing violin and one was playing cello, kind of experimental chamber music. I don’t know how to describe it! What I listen to when I go for a run and what I listen to when I draw is quite different. I think I generally listen to something more meditative and ambient, like Nils Frahm or Ólafur Arnalds.

Why do you choose to use charcoal and not, say, oils or pens?
I’ve tried all those things. The first thing I used was chalk on the floor because I had some sidewalk chalk and a cement floor in my studio so that was just available and I could erase it. I just love charcoal. That rich black, you can’t really get it with anything else. I tried it with graphite and I didn’t like that because it’s not graphic enough. I’ve worked with pastels and colours; that can be pretty but I don’t feel like I get that tonal range or graphic impact with the end result. It’s too monotone, which the charcoal is too but you get all these greys and super rich black. I used white charcoal on black canvas in my last performance and I really loved how that looked and felt too. It’s something to do with it moving. I tried oil and crayons but I just couldn’t slide with it and it was just getting all over me.

I actually really love the photographs of you after you’ve finished a piece and the charcoal is all over your hands and legs, you’ve got a real connection to the ground you’re working on. Would you say you live a particularly environmentally friendly lifestyle?
I’m a total hippie. A bohemian. I wouldn’t say I pick charcoal for that reason but I don’t enjoy working with acrylics. Before this I was working with Fresco and I really liked dry pigments or earth pigments, that texture of stone, clay and metal. I like those raw materials. I feel like charcoal is the first art supply, it has to be! Somebody grabbed it and drew on the cave wall. It just feels so basic in a really amazing way.

Do you choreograph the process before hand or is it a natural expression in the moment?
I’ve done both. I always leave room for improvisation but I generally will have a shape in mind. I’ll get on the canvas and work out what are the dimensions and where can my body fit and then I just try to become an open channel through improv. Sometimes that works out well and sometimes not but I don’t show you those!

It’s a very honest bodily experience, especially when you’re doing a live performance and you’re on the floor in front of all these people. When you’re down there and you’re being watched do you feel empowered or do you ever feel vulnerable?
I’ve had both experiences where it’s been wonderful and you can feel the energy of the audience. I try not to focus too much on the audience because I like to focus on the piece that I’m making, it’s not performative in that way where you are projecting and engaging with them. It’s definitely more internal even though I’m happy to share it and I’m fine with people watching I don’t see it as entertainment. The camera is watching me usually when I’m in my studio because I document all of them. It’s different to the dance performance I’ve done in the past where I have more of a conversation with the audience. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m drawing but it’s hard to do both. I’ve had bad experiences with audiences being rude and have had too much to drink. That’s really frustrating to deal with. After that one especially I felt really sorry for musicians playing in bars. I wasn’t in a bar but people had been drinking a lot and were being really rude. When that happened it was the first time that when I was drawing I started getting these angular lines and afterwards the photographer I worked with the most was there filming it was like, “Wow you must have been really angry.” I wasn’t angry or upset but I was a little bit confused by it and it definitely affected my drawing. But it was good because in the end it’s become one of my favourite drawings.

And lastly, where do you consider home?
Wherever my son is. We’ve moved so much; we’ve also lived in Bali. He loves to travel too. He’s very adventurous. I think he’s going to go to school in London; he’s applying for RADA.


For more of Heather’s work, check out her website. Photos and video by Bryan Tarnowski. Interviewed by Melissa Ray.


  • Michiel Czn. Dhont

    Hallo Heather,

    Here a friend in the field of ‘ art expressive work by movement’ is writing the next small story:

    This is amazing what I just watched on your website!

    The former Publisher of my art book sent me a message just before if I ever had seen work from you.

    This is the first time. I am realy impressed with the focus, strengh and soiplesse you create your artworks by, what you call ‘Kinetic Drawings’.

    Kenetic is a wonderfull name for it although most people or audience would understand the word ‘Body Drawing’ more easily. Not many people know the word Kenetic!

    The way you talk about your work I am also touched in the sort of clear, open and non-ego way you reply to the questions of Melissa Ray. Wonderfull.


    I realy reconize a lot concerning my own development as an artist in Holland/europe – Amsterdam.

    Funy that you ounce used the word Hippie. I am from 1940 and been influenced by the Hippie movement of the period end 60 & 70-th/ last 20th century.

    I started Body drawing in 1972 on big paper and canvasses. Also steppde to painting this way in very suble and rude way in the slogan: ‘art expressive work by movement and intuition’.

    I have been a tutor in this method in art in my own Art Academy in Amsterdam for 45 years.

    Working in many countries, teaching as well as performing art and ;paying concerts..

    Sometimes I made combinations with this work with my own music from Jazz & improvise music.

    I play the Jazz Double bass, Silverflute (some piano to write music pieces).

    Also exhibitions of my painting (many with circles) and playing music as opening ceremony.

    Slowly my work has been influenced by Shamanism in a strong way.

    This made me create a combination between two circles, both coming from very old times (as you might know shamanism has deep old knoledge).

    The two circles are from the Mandala in combination with the oldest form which is the: Medicinwheel.

    These circles I work with students and myself in Seminars wherever I can work in nature and on silent non-disturbed places.

    students create Land Art by creating a big Mandala.

    Then I guide them through the inner world of themself where the can transform conditional acting and thoughts.

    The last phase is to create your deepest wish at that moment of your life.

    The Land Art piece should vanish right after this ritual is ended.

    In this way my personal art works which stay mostly very material for long time now developed that after the ceremony of this proces the Art piece completely vanishes.

    This means that the materialistc aspect of my art changed completely in my work with students to only stay a an inner proces. this proces could never take place without the first creation of the Circle combination but solves completely.

    In holland I published in the millenium year 2000 my first book about art for students, teachers and therapist which is called in English words: ‘The Timeless Hour’.

    22 visual art exercises to enhance the integration of Emotional, Social and Cognitive Intelligence.

    It is meant for Art Education in creativity as well as mde for therapy. Both for children and adults.

    All 22 excercises are with charcoal + only 4 crayons and natural clay.

    All 22 excercises are meant to act with both hands simultaniously or in exchange and some body movements.
    4 Excersise are created specialy to be done with the guidance of music by f.ex. disk or life music.

    The basic idea of the content of the book/method is: to raise creativity and from there conciousness in human being by ‘kenetic movements’.

    Many of my students already teach this in many places in holland and abroad.

    Also the Website looks very nice the way I can search from the dots and clicks.

    (In 1980 the pianoplayer and me played in New york and upstate New york. there and in boston I guided many students in seminars and played concerts too. This has been marvelous time, I will never forget).

    Also the movies in your Website are wonderfull. this collegue of you Tarnakowsky also is a very talented artist.

    You are the first person (woman) that I know from this world who works from almost same basic art path.
    I realy appreciate to send you my appreciation about your work and share our experiences because it is so exceptional to me to dicover your art (by the hint of my Publisher!).

    Thank you Heather and maybe we will meet once. with sharing love from Michiel / michael.
    (( I once worked in Denmark and heard several times the name Hansen. Is your family originaly Danish?))

    http://www.dhont.nl (Gallery – performences) & musicbox – Art Courses in Greece & France – The Timeless Hour -.