A Q&A with artist Heather Chontos
Q: First of all, how did this unique collaboration with Miller Harris come about?
A: It was all through the amazing representative in London the fabulous Holly Wood at Wood Society for the Arts. I think the concept of making visual the natural world around us, created a spark of an idea and we were fortunate enough to be in conversation with Miller Harris inspirational chief creative Sarah Rotheram, the exhibition felt like a perfect collaboration for this moment in time.
Q: I love the oval ‘looking glass’ shape you have used for this series of works. With all the mirror/Alice/portal ripples perhaps associated with this form, why did you choose it?
A: The “ looking glass” is exactly why I chose this shape. The oval is meant to represent the classic scape of the mirror, using the concepts of reflection and observance of one’s self or their invito Kent.
Q: They reminded me of aircraft windows and seeing pieces of land and ocean come up, float and drift away. You have travelled all over the world, how much has travelling impacted & influenced the use of such a luminous palette?
A: I love that visual reference. My favorite part of flying is landing and take off and watching the landscape come in and out of focus. It is a huge influence. My favorite and most recent inspiration of palette came from Zanzibar, Tanzania. I feel the need to travel, not just because I am some sort of gypsy with deep wanderlust who can’t stay in one place, but rather it gives me deep and meaningful connection to inspiration that is ever changing and not stagnant. I of course fixate on some colors, but they move and change with the light in places around the world that the people, the food, the smells, all of it, presents to me as I change my perspective from place to place.
Q: I read that you prefer to use unexpected tools to apply, move, fix and blend paint on canvases. How did this come about?
A: Honestly I love paintbrushes as objects, but not as tools. I don’t like traditional brushstrokes in my work. I have more control and deeper saturation with other tools. I like to feel connected to my surface too and so I want to be close. I think it first came about because I could not afford palette knives so I took out my library card from my wallet and voila!
Q: You often add strata of paper, plastic and fabric to canvases. I interpreted this as a distant echo of your original training in fine art restoration: reconstruction, renovation and concealment. Is this something you sense in your own work?
A: Yes! I often incorporated these materials in the beginning, because I was trying to repair or “ mask” something that was in need of repair on my painting surface. It worked as a great method to fix discrepancies in my work, but now I add it because I like the layering of texture and diverse materials.
Q: A lot of contemporary art galleries seem to have evolved into retail spaces, selling so much stuff, sometimes it is hard to tell where the artist’s work ends and the nitty gritty of retail commerce begins. What do you think the challenges are of creating art for a luxury retail space like the Miller Harris Canary Wharf boutique?
A: It didn’t find it particularly challenging because the space was so clean and beautiful , which lent itself perfectly to featuring large artwork. I think that the variations of scale with the product being a smaller size is tricky, but when I received the elevation of the space it seemed to just make sense to me.
I agree with the “ too much stuff” problem, so the simpler the better. Beautiful creations should speak for themselves whether it is art or design, the extra” stuff” is not needed.
Q: And did this impact in any way decisions you took during the artistic process?
A: The only thing was that the space was quite angular, lots of rights angles, so the oval made sense here and the glass gave way for the notion of the “ reflection or looking glass”.
Q: What do you think of the idea of displaying and selling/buying art in a retail environment such as the Miller Harris concept boutique?
A: I think it’s in keeping with the times. Art is everywhere and not everyone is going to get to go and see an exhibition at a gallery. The creative conversations between brands and artists I think is key to keeping the experience for customers exciting and fresh. I love the idea that you get a snapshot into an artist’s inner workings in a beautiful scent store, the small exhibitions are almost always more interesting because they reveal so much more!
Q: You spent nearly two decades working in set design and art directing. Was becoming Heather Chontos, Abstract Artist an organic and fluid one or was it more complex than expected?
A: It was at first challenging because the world likes to pigeon hole you into being one thing, a specialist in something, but I wanted to do everything and it was not fully accepted. It became clear to me that my creativity remains, no matter what, but it is painting that I love the most and I feel most fully myself being “ the artist”
Q: One of the most profound things I learned about you was your total loss of sight at the age of thirteen and being legally blind for eight months. How do think this physical experience of not-seeing and also the memory of it shaped you as a visual artist?
A: I guess it has shaped me in the sense that I know the loss, the grey space that sits between the light we can see and the light we cannot. It inspires me to find color and light in everything .
Q: Do have a favourite perfume/Miller Harris perfume?
A: I own several, that’s a difficult question, I’d have to go with Eau de Parfum Le Jasmin, it instantly transports me and lifts me on the greyest of days. That’s what I love about really pure scent you know it’s giving you an extra lift, makes me feel like I’m walking on clouds, it’s a scent from heaven!
Q: If you were given the opportunity and could do whatever you wanted, how do you think you might approach the design and creation of a perfume? How would you want it to smell and feel?
A: Oh, wow, well... i would want to climb to the top of a hill or mountain and be surrounded by the scents that can cause me to stop in my tracks and completely encompass my senses. I would want it to feel warming and nurturing. It would have cardamom, cinnamon, the smell of trees, Moss and wildflowers in the early fall. I travel everywhere with cardamom pods and cinnamon for my coffee so i of course would have to supply those, but the rest I could find in nature. I can see the painting g now that would cover a glass bottle with an array of colorful markings and pastel drawn lines to indicate the sensation that all of these scents bring to mind.