Daniel Heidkamp can seem like an anomaly among New York painters. His domestic scenes and landscapes have an innocent quality, as though they come from an alternate universe in which social media is unknown and the relevance of representational painting has never been in doubt. This is not to say that Heidkamp’s work is naive or nostalgic; on the contrary, he has looked to the history of plein air painting in particular in order to establish something of an oppositional stance. This is a subtle move, of course, since outside the gallery system in which he shows, observational painting is anything but oppositional, representing the default mode for many working artists and Sunday hobbyists everywhere.
An exhibition at New York’s White Columns gallery in 2014 featured Heidkamp’s paintings of Central Park in springtime. One depicts a tree flowering with pink cherry blossoms while the Metropolitan Museum’s glass-and-steel contemporary wing looms in the background. Heidkamp began these canvases on-site and then finished them in his studio. This dual process is evident in the final works, which shift between areas of precise detail and flat sections of quickly applied color; the odd leaf or blade of grass provides surface texture.
Amazingly, my short write-up about the exhibition for this magazine’s website, comparing Heidkamp’s style and approach to the Barbizon school of 19th-century French realist painters, prompted the artist to travel to the school’s source of inspiration—the Forest of Fontainebleau—and then throughout Europe. His recent show at New York’s Half Gallery, “Barbizon Beauty School,” featured the results of the expedition. On one wall hung a group of paintings focused on the kind of rocky outcropping that might have appeared in the foreground of a Théodore Rousseau.
The natural world depicted in Heidkamp’s work is often a park or cemetery, a cultivated space within an urban setting. (Fontainebleau was already a tourist attraction in the 19th century.) The presence of the city is always felt in these works, sometimes in the form of modernist buildings that intrude on otherwise pastoral settings, as in one painting from “Barbizon Beauty School” showing the eccentric Louis Vuitton Foundation museum in Paris viewed from across an open field.
If Heidkamp’s exterior spaces have a fenced-in quality, his interiors appear full of possibilities. Small apartments crammed with books, art, and a cast of frequently nude friends and lovers become sites for observations that are at once visual, intellectual and erotic.
COMING SOON Daniel Heidkamp paintings in a group exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery, London, July 16–Aug. 16, 2015.