Spontaneous and intuitive, abstract expressionist painter Heather Chontos is a fierce creative force, wielding color and form to create stunning compositions on canvas."I find comfort in the unusual beauty of abstraction, there is an ambiguity and unwillingness to conform a structure of impulses, a certain request of my hand to perform." As a child, she experienced a year of temporary blindness caused by illness. Once her sight was restored, she began to experience the world and all its vibrant beauty and color in an entirely new way. An inspiring and gifted artist, we chatted with Heather about her technique, design influences, and the important role of art in her own home.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
“I am an abstract painter, with a great love for a very large surface to paint on. I feel I have a special understanding for the use of colour and depicting its unique variety within selective palettes. I am inspired by the visual impact of my surroundings and translate this into a sort of abstract visual language that comes to me very intuitively.”
Tell us about your technique of using plastic cards as your paintbrush. Where did that idea come from and how has it evolved over time?
“I can't quite remember exactly when I started using this method, but I know I have always hated brushstrokes in my work and I found alternative ways to paint for a very long time. The most dangerous being flat pieces of broken glass. When I was at University and had absolutely no money, I could not afford palettes knives and special tools, so I found anything I could with a smooth flat edge. The plastic cards were sort of an AH HA!! moment when I couldn't find anything else to use. I pulled a credit card out of my wallet and thus it began. I like to work with the flow of paint and be as close as possible to it on the surface. This technique allows me to do that.”
What does your creative process look like from start to finish?
“I simply start... I choose a colour palette in my head or a shape and I begin. I generally will start and finish paintings the same day, but sometimes I will let something sit and come back to it. There is a sense of urgency when I have an idea. It's like I have to let it out.”
Are they any rituals or routines you follow while creating?
“Not particularly... but, I like to be alone when I am painting because I listen to music and often there are bursts of dancing that occur and nobody should see that!!! I love to dance, so much, but it's not for public viewing.”
Where do you go when you’re craving inspiration?
“I travel for inspiration, mostly. I need new environments and new people. I like to experience the chaos of a new place and the feeling of seeing things for the first time and being somewhat invisible in the process. I sort of fill up my inspiration reserves when I do that and it lasts a while. I can be very prolific, making many paintings per day at times so I need a lot of inspiration. And when I can't travel, my inspiration to sustain that passion for creating comes from within thankfully. I have a great love for communicating with my viewer through painting and I have a lot I want to share through my work.”
Who are your artistic or design influences/heroes?
“Etel Adnan is one of my heroes both as an artist and a poet, Helen Frankenthaler as a painter, Cy Twombly, Sonia Delaunay, Jonah Meyer of Sawkille, is an amazing artist, designer, and creator, so organic in everything he makes, and then there is a long list of designers from Copenhagen, the place I want to live most... like ‘Frama’ and ‘All the way to Paris’.”
What role does art and design play in your own home? Tell us about your decor style.
“Oh... it's everything. I’m obsessed. I drive my kids crazy! I love art and design, but my way and I want to be totally surrounded by it. I make and design most of it myself or do a lot of research to find exactly the thing I am looking for. I have an eclectic style of old and new. I do not like “stuff” so no small things. I used to collect a lot of smaller objects when I was a prop stylist for nearly 20 years, but now I just want statement pieces or incredibly minimal designs. I design a lot of my own furniture and lighting fixtures from found objects. I also create and hand paint a lot of my own textiles so I make pieces that fit into the style of the textiles as well. Right now I am in Tanzania and I have bought some incredible baskets that will become pendant lights when I get home!”
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Photography by Emily Delamater & Schoolhouse