Heather McPherson

Artist Profile

Heather McPherson

Born in Ann Arbor, MI; based in Providence, RI

Heather McPherson's approach to painting combines abstraction and figuration while applying a range of materials to create low relief wall-based paintings. Responding to devotional painters with a deep consideration for surface effects, natural light and imagery related to the body, McPherson's low relief paintings merge contemporary and traditional materials to assert a physicality in her paintings.

Unique to McPherson's practice is her process of submerging her paintings on paper into translucent epoxy, allowing the painting to suspend in a dream-like state and challenging the effects of time on archival materials. Once dried, the exterior substrate becomes a secondary canvas for further painting by McPherson. This dynamic process challenges the idea of painting as two-dimensional by integrating visible layers that capture elements of sculpture, collage, and painting all at once, similar to an artifact. McPherson’s artistic process can be understood as a transcription of the ethereal by referencing fleshy bodies and historical iconography and by the unification of text, scrawls, and devotional imagery nestled within each layer.

Her densely packed low relief paintings harness physical qualities that expand the definition of painting while the spatial estrangement of layers remind viewers of duality, namely the material world and the transcendent, or the distance between the body and mind.


McPherson is an Associate Professor of studio art at Providence college. She received a BFA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MFA from RISD. Recent shows include What Would Artist Do at a vacant storefront in Providence, Below the Thin at Take it Easy in Atlanta, and group shows at Below Grand, Kristen Lorello, and 315 Gallery in New York. She has presented previous projects with the RISD museum, Vox Populi in Philadelphia, and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA.. 

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Artist Statement

In my work, drawings of devotional imagery, expressive scrawls, and psychedelic color fields are embedded in translucent epoxy. This collage-like grammar is enabled by the permissiveness of epoxy, which accepts and metabolizes any fragment. Once solid, it becomes a substrate for further painting.

I look to the art histories of dream states and mystical visualization, efforts to envision the formless and define what ordinary vision is incapable of seeing (physical sensation, supernatural encounter, other unnamable strangeness). My work physicalizes what it’s like to be in a separate body struggling to unite materially and psychologically with others, in the present or across gaps of time and memory.

When I transcribe sacred imagery, I am clinging to or mimicking the gesture of someone else reaching towards god. Painting fleshly realness is also painting transcendence. Imagining Van Eyck rendering each leg hair of Adam in the Ghent altarpiece– with a brush made of a single hair– and the kind of sensual and spiritual longing evinced by this repetitive gesture, I join in another’s encounter with longing and take it on. In this is an implicit desire to merge, and pronounce the eroticism of merged subjectivities.

My work includes low relief casting of imagery and text on the surface of epoxy works, floating above the painted forms. I am interested in the spatial estrangement of these layers: another wish to unite that is always approaching the asymptote of unification. When textural elements correspond to the drawing, there is a single sweet spot of viewership where the two elements align. From any other point, the image glitches into misregistration.

In all my work, I thematize painting as a layer separating two things while also bringing them into contact — a door between front/back, inside/outside, dreaming/awake, me/you, my body/your body. In this site where experiences at the edges of consciousness can punch through and commingle with ordinary states of being, my work performs the indeterminacy that attends desire and communication as a whole.