Shedding Water & Poise with Heidi Peele

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by Shannon Jay

Heidi Peelen’s work sheds the polite skin females usually portray, and unleashes every lady’s raunchy side. Whether large-scale mixed media pieces, goofy installations, or comedy routines, she creates characters (sometimes at her own expense) that might not be classy but are complex. What some may perceive as lower class at best or trailer trash at worst, she turns into stunning pieces that provoke beauty and respect. She’s nobly brought what she learned in the Big Apple at Pratt Institute back to humble beginnings in Hampton Roads.

She’s put herself out there for performances at Push Comedy and Watershed Art House, which she created and runs. Next, she’s shaking-shit-up at Chrysler Glass Studio this week for a Third Thursday performance. When I asked her to tell me a bit more about it via email, the question boded the shortest and vaguest response of all: “Me trying to be the perfect homemaker and me being the perfect homemaker.”

As for everything else, she’s pretty much an open book:

So, you do... a lot. Maybe start by listing out your extracurriculars?

As far as "extracurriculars,” I'm not sure if I can define them as such, I am genuinely bored by a lot of things and as result aim to find pleasure in other stuff. I really like other stuff. Most of the time the other stuff is anything and everything but the thing I SHOULD be concentrating on. If its a Sunday and I am alone, I like to play the autoharp and make up songs (only if my breakfast voice is still on) and sometimes I record them and sometimes I honestly just strum two chords over and over again until I never want to look at the autoharp for like a month. Also, I really am recently finding pleasure in housecleaning, redecorating and not leaving the parameters of my yard, unless its like someone's birthday and even still I've flaked on like 3 this past year alone. Also I find sanctitude in making lists and never returning to them again. I have 8 to 10 spiral notebooks in rotation that I cant keep track of. 

What got you into comedy?  

I've made home movies dressed as really unfortunate characters since I was in ninth grade. When I found a place where other people were doing that and on stage, and then strangers were laughing and actually enjoyed it? And when I felt the adrenaline surge of hearing strangers laugh at me and I did it on purpose, I don't know - that kind of turned me on, so I went for it.

Its fun, but I can’t fully submerge into anything. So I do it and try to incorporate it into my art and my day to day as naturally as I can, it makes sense. Especially for art, because art is a joke and I've been doing that since they told me you got to pick something to be good at and/or make money. I don't make a lot of money. 

Money must come from somewhere. What’s your current “day job”?

Still teaching. I'm part-time waitressing too. I've worked in factory-produced metal stamping for the family business, I've worked as an assistant project manager in a basement in Brooklyn, I've been a Xerox printer salesman, I've made money doing what I had to do to make money.

I think there's a beauty in employing yourself into fields that make you uncomfortable, because undoubtedly I learn something with every single job. Whatever we're defining as a job these days. 

Tell me a bit about your sexy one-woman show.

One woman shows are a blast. I like to play with the role of performer for the audience and audience as the performers for the artist. Psychology is a favorite pass time read. But I am by no means experienced in the subject, especially anything written past 1970-something. I love any 60-70's psychology. Its so much less forgiving than the contemporary, I think.

Anyhoo, the one woman shows are a way for me to low-key hate myself. Because just before I have to go out and perform, backstage, I freak all of the way out and want to call it immediately. Questions begged, "Why are they here?" and "OMG what do I contribute to society?" its all sort of just a cheeky guarantee that I get to develop my own existential crisis for actually no reason at all. The whole show, the whole production, is like one giant excuse for me to self destruct. Awesome. 

“Low-Key Starved” was all purely experimental (and I definitely want to do one again). It was really about toying with audience as performers vs the performer as the audience and how to make myself even uncomfortable. Like I had expectations of people reacting certain ways or walking out or getting fed up or laughing but then when they did I was like oh no what am I doing.

“This is How You Art” was more about the philosophy of watershed. I wanted to get the general art enthusiast up to speed with the tongue in cheek world of art academia and the contemporary and more conceptual pieces that have blurred the lines of art for even the experts. So I’d introduce a performance artist or sound piece or whatever through a live re-enactment (of course with some art licensing) and then allow the audience to experience it. After the re-enactment I would commentate on what they witnessed, and prompt them based off of Goethe’s 3 questions: what was the artist trying to do? Was it worth doing? And was she successful at doing it?

Speaking of Watershed Art House, What was the initial premise behind it and are there any upcoming events?

Watershed Art House is an attempt to yank the area out of the gallery and into the mindset of art as experience. Not a product, not an end result, no a sale, or potential sale or how much for this or whatever, but Watershed is supposed to stretch the mind. Omg that sounds zealous, BUT, I want it (and the people involved with me on this want it) to make art approachable and shifting and ever-changing and incredibly ephemeral. We live in a world of-- never mind I'm not even going down the roads, but its a work in progress and we want art to be the experience and temporary and approachable by everyone. Amen. (and I think our next event is this fall- tba, tbd, y'all.)

What are all the visual mediums you work in? What's your favorite?

I've been drawing since the magna-doodle and my mom made a really big deal over my drawing a deer - it looked like an animal of sorts I guess but whatever I was four and she thought it was the bee-knees and I think when your so easily influenced and you're a little bb child and your mom makes you feel like Picasso, your 4 year old mind is like, "shit yea, I'm gonna be Picasso". But recently (although I do draw alone and when I'm on the phone, or idk, whenever) I don't see a point for visual art. I don't see a lot of a point for anything, but especially visual art whose end product takes up space and time and money. I've spent a lot of those things in my life-long affair with this bit and I won't stop, but the ebb and flow of our love demands that occasionally, I cut her off. Right now I like video and projections, and happenings and performances, and making myself really uncomfortable swimming in all those pools. And its working. Art should make you (as the artist) uncomfortable - if I feel good and cozy and comfy with doing the same thing I've been doing for a bajillion years, then really, what am I doing? 

What music/movies do you usually paint to or draw inspiration from?

I like anything with low to no dialogue. I like music with words I can't understand but chords and repetition I do. I love repetitive qualities in sound. I love sound collage. One of the MAJOR films that truly dug out my insides and in ways revamped my brain was Terrence Malick's Tree of Life. Still now. And if I weren't a trite millennial I'd give you my musical artist faves, except that then everyone reading this would know about them and then they might get a little more popular and then they'd do something awful with their next album and I'm approaching 30 and really need some stability in my life rn. 

To see more work, check out her portfolio, and her 360 portrait project on Instagram