Renowned for alchemical investigations of the universeʼs material relationships through strange and unexpected pairings of media in his sculptures, in 2017 Jay Heikes turned to painting with his Mother Sky series. Rather than engaging recent histories and present hardships in an explicit way, these paintings refocus the attention of Heikesʼ viewers toward the sky in meditative compositions that render sublime cloud-scapes in a panoply of colors.
Mother Sky refers to the title of the 1969 song by the German experimental rock group Can, which along with writings by Tibetan Buddhist Milarepa influenced this body of work. When describing this series, Heikes references Milarepaʼs unease when thinking about clouds on a perfect blue sky, saying that he instead regards clouds as soothing. Heikes states “Maybe I was always more comfortable with the unease and distraction contained in fluffy clouds but was just ashamed to illustrate it because of its perceived decorative nature. Yet for so many generations of artists, reaching for the sublime was an avant-garde call to arms that appeared irresistible.”
This presentation comprises a series of paintings in which Heikes depicts cloudy skies in vibrant and bizarre colors like chartreuse, rust, indigo, copper and fluorescent green. Before screen printing the clouds and applying paint onto the surface, Heikes stains the canvas using a combination of vinegar, salt, and powdered pigment. As they react, these substances generate unpredictable hues. Presented alongside the paintings, Heikesʼ Minor Planets sculptures are crafted from a wide range of materials including bismuth, copper sheeting, kevlar, salt, concrete and quartz. The metals and complementary materials oxidize and mutate over time and are yet another testimony to the unpredictability of material and form in a way that for the artist “is not practiced, concise or refined”.
In this series, there is simultaneously an element of escapism as we drift on the wind away from challenging realities at hand and an appeal to keep our feet firmly planted on the ground even as we have our heads in the clouds. The irony of painting tempestuous skies during a turbulent historical moment is not lost upon Heikes, who is compelled by the notion that clouds suggest infinite possibilities. They can take on any shape, they morph quickly, and no cloud exists forever.