Heidi Taillefer was born in 1970 and has worked and lived in Montreal, Quebec my whole life. From the age of 8 until 18, she took private art classes at a well known local art school close to our home although she never studied art academically in any formal sense. During that time Heidi was greatly influenced by sci-fi movies from the 80’s, most notably Terminator, which helped inspire her robotic style. Heidi was very concerned with the state of the environment and the human impact on it, and her work began to reflect these concerns. The artist had become a vegan in response to what she learned about the factory farm industry and it’s effect on the animals concerned and the environment and her work turned into a way to denounce human encroachment on the natural world.
In 1992, after leaving the program Heidi was pursuing at McGill university (Humanistic studies), she began to work as a commercial illustrator and fine artist, two careers she pursued in tandem which fed off of each other very well. She also began traveling extensively throughout the world, which reflected in her work. By the mid-90’s Heidi began exhibiting and selling regularly in Montreal although by then she was participating in group shows and a museum exhibit in the United States. Still, the majority of her artistic activities were in Montreal although she began to branch out more by 2004, securing more shows and gallery representation in the US.
What’s your artistic background?
I grew up in a Canadian suburban family filled with creativity since my mother is also an artist and encouraged us to create from the time we could start holding pencils. I was always drawn to surrealism and all of our childhood antics and adventures fed into this creative maelstrom.
What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Discipline. I have gone through phases where I was on fire, and inspired to create with little effort and it just happened automatically. And I have also been completely tapped out, where I needed to slow down and sift through creative blocks using all sorts of techniques, from rest to psychoanalysis to try and figure out why I could no longer create. But all throughout I found that discipline was the most important ingredient, in order to remain productive whether it was fast paced or slow. Inspiration is wonderful but it can be challenged by all sorts of distractions in life.
What role does the artist have in society?
Artists are influencers in society; they are like the head of the spear which plows forward independently of what surrounds them. An even better depiction is Kandinsky’s spiritual triangle whereby the greatest insights are at the tip of the triangle, which is slowly accessed by an ever greater margin lower down as wisdom and insight gradually progress. Artists are usually at the tip of this triangle, and stand out as originals until their contribution trickles downward and becomes more accessible to the majority.
What art do you most identify with?
Symbolism and surrealism, which has influenced my work so that is essentially of the same genre. I am also a figurative painter and paint realistically. I very much like representational art bordering on the abstract, which I find is really expressive and also attainable to the average viewer. My work focuses on the message inherent in the image more than any actual painting technique, so I really admire painting techniques that are beyond what I do.
What themes do you pursue?
My work is a reflection of the ubiquity of technology throughout society which does not manage to change our human nature, although I do recognize that humanity is evolving into a better state, ever so gradually it seems. I infuse my mechanical designs with questions or observations about our human condition, and I often use mythology or religion which is full of rich material to source from. Romantic love was a strong theme for me for many years, during which time I produced a series of cherubs as vintage Valentines, then I spent a year sculpting and moulding dolls representing Eros, also cherubs, in their many iterations. I’ve also depicted jealousy, death, regret, hope, defiance, the list is endless, and these are always as mechanical constructions that remind the viewer about our ever increasing merger with technology.
What’s your favourite art work?
George Frederic Watts’ painting of Hope, which is brilliant in its simplicity and so impactful, so identifiable.
Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?
In 2004 I travelled to India and went on a camel safari in the Thar desert (Great Indian desert). On the second day, my camel was bit until it bled by the one behind it, and proceeded to buck and kick like a rodeo horse, throwing me off since there was no saddle or anything to hang onto. I fell on the hard packed desert ground and broke my right painting arm in a dramatic twist, literally, as my arm was suddenly completely broken and cork-screwed. From there, with one aspirin to dull the pain, it was a 38 hour jeep, plane, and taxi ride until I reached a private hospital in Delhi, which was like a paradaisical apparition in the middle of this sprawling city. It was like checking into a luxury hotel by comparison to everything I had seen in India, and I had an external titanium fixture screwed into my arm which I wore for 2 months until it was removed. Upon my return to Canada, I found a fashion photographer (Nicolas Ruel) who was willing to do a photo shoot with me and my arm, which would become a kind of photo-roman, to be exhibited at the Cirque du Soleil’s international headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. I painted on the photos which were printed on masonite, and added flourishes to communicate the idea. Although the theme of the exhibition was mostly missed by the audience, it was actually quite interesting since it started with myself posing as the main subject with a titanium fixture fastened to my arm, as I was now transformed into a bio-mechanical being, in keeping with my art. The photo-roman was a love story starting with a soul, depicted as a female, living out the experiences of two different incarnations, one as a wealthy girl and one being very poor. The photo-roman alternated between rich and poor depictions in a seamless progression of this soul who falls in love with a car, indicating that such experiences are felt whether one is wealthy or poor. The soul is brutally spurned and rejected by her love interest (the car) and she has to learn to deal with her emotions and perceptions in order to break the cycle of reincarnation.
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I haven’t had many work experiences beyond being a commercial illustrator and fine artist, but I was a chamber maid and waitress in the Yukon when I was 21 years old for 3 weeks total, and I worked as a graphic artist for 5 months afterwards, until I was able to secure a business grant which helped get me started as a professional artist and illustrator.
I originally thought I might become a lawyer, like my father was, but during that trip to the Yukon I had a bad waitressing experience which made me decide I did not want to work for, or with, others if I could avoid it. Of course it is necessary to work with others in art, but I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone and art seemed like the likeliest way to avoid workplace politics. I love art, but I also have many interests and it was not the first thing that came to mind when deciding what I should do with my life. So I have a difficult waitress to thank, who made that work miserable for me until I decided to never go back.
What is an artistic outlook on life?
Experience of all things and openness I would have to say, although living in the suburbs I can say there are also many artists who are happy to live a more cocooned life. For myself, I need experience in order to learn and grow and dredge up ideas. I used to want to clone myself in order to live out as many simultaneous experiences as possible, but after a bout of good and bad experiences, I am more interested in navigating through life with as few problems as possible. So I am simplifying and setting boundaries, but I have a kind of restlessness that seeks out some form of experience or exploration of things in order to live a full life.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I have been asked if I have nightmares often, or if I do drugs to get inspired (I don’t), and once I was told that my work demonstrated a kind of apophenic free associative quality that meant I must have some serious mental illness. But mostly I have been complimented greatly, embarrassingly so too since it can be tricky to accept great compliments without sounding or feeling boastful. I know that my work can trigger both good and bad reactions, but I think that is its strength, it’s like love and hate, each of which are not opposite rather they are the same thing on a different scale or spectrum. Indifference is the opposite of love, so as long as people are not indifferent to my work then I feel like I have succeeded with my art.
Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
Oh wow, yes is it ever lonely! But I’m actually quite good on my own, and when starting out before the advent of smart phones or even the internet, I would spend a week working 15 hour days hoping someone would call from time to time and leave a message on my answering machine at the very least. It was hard to circulate and make new friends after I had moved into the city of Montreal, because I spent so much time painting. At times I would find myself in a long term relationship with someone who became my best friend and that helped quell loneliness, but I am quite social too and felt frustrated at not being able to circulate more freely and meet new people due to work constraints. That lasted about 25 years but by the time I got married and moved my studio back into the suburbs, I found myself socializing way more somehow. I work a lot less too now, since I divide my time up in looking after my father who has Alzheimer’s and I think I am more drawn to forging social connections now than painting full time, as if I’m making up for all those years in isolation. But as a coping mechanism way back when as I was alone in my studio and single, working crazy hours, I would play different kinds of music that would remind me of South America or Africa, or the Middle East or India, and I would plan my next trip slowly in my head, which made it possible to keep working so hard all alone.
What do you like about your work?
I like the complexity and story behind most of my work. Some of it is just for fun, like vignettes that are done to explore an aesthetic more than a story, but a lot of it is to help make sense of things I see around me. Painting is like a meditation and I inject meaning into the slowly paced process of what I do as revelations come to me, and I think that revelation is one of the best feelings in the world.
Name three artists you’d like to be compared to.
I’ve already been compared to three early 20th century surrealists, Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux, and Giorgio deChirico, all of which influenced Dali, but I’m compared to Dali most of all it seems and I am quite happy with that so that will be my first choice. As a female artist I’d have to say I aspire to being compared to other female artists who went on to be recognized for their work in some form or another, and who have some aspect of their work life or work, that is comparable to mine. I would say the first artist that comes to mind is Frieda Kahlo, who did not produce that much actually, and infused fantasy and a kind of magic realism into her work. Tamara de Lempicka is another, who I had learned (although this might be wrong) began painting because she wanted to make a splash on the arts scene and to become famous, more than for a love of art although she still loved art of course. I see a parallel with myself in the more illustrative style of her work, and that although I love art, I started out in the hopes of making a living, more than for the joy of creating art.
Favourite or most inspirational place?
All of South America, with all its magic realism and the superlatives that can be applied to it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Luck comes to those who are prepared. A few years ago I slowed down to take a break from painting, I was feeling really tapped out after so many years of intense work. Although I was doing other non art-related things, I would still get approached out of the blue by people or galleries interested in my work and I was caught having to say that I hardly had any new work. One of these instances was with a major US gallery, although in the end it was decided that I produce too slowly for their needs, but it still felt like a missed opportunity.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
I’m in a bit of a transition professionally since I seem to have been selling quite well on my own over the past couple years, especially during Covid, despite all the galleries that have been closing around me. But for now my goal is to make my work better known and understood, through interviews such as this, magazine articles, etc. Many people see my work as colorful robotic mechanisms without knowing what it’s about in a deeper sense, and since there is often alot of meaning, I would like for that to be better understood.
My most immediate plan is to travel to Patagonia, once it’s safer to travel.