Jay Heikes

Riley CAP Gallery exhibitions are supported by Douglas County, Catherine & Terry Ferguson, Sara Foxley, and Polina & Bob Schlott.

Through strange and unexpected pairings of materials, Jay Heikes questions the relationships among the matter of the universe. The son of a chemist, Heikes is particularly fascinated by alchemy, the medieval precursor to modern chemistry, which proposed that transforming one substance into another is possible, if not always explicable. Although known primarily as a sculptor, Heikes recently turned to painting in response to the social and political divisiveness gripping the United States. Yet rather than directly addressing events playing out on Earth, Heikes is diverting his attention toward the sky, painting voluminous clouds in a panoply of colors. In one sense, these new paintings—each called Mother Sky—involve a necessary bit of escapism for the artist, who struggles with how to cope in a polarized society and sees value in having one’s “head in the clouds.” Heikes finds catharsis in his subject, which he has called “banal” and “inconsequential”—that is, an ideal antidote to the frenzy of the daily news cycle. However, the artist also registers the dark joke playing out in this body of work, acknowledging the irony of painting stormy skies during a turbulent historical moment.

While painting is a deviation from Heikes’ usual practice, he approaches his new work with a sculptor’s sensibility, employing the chemical processes that have long informed his three-dimensional work. Before screen printing the clouds and dabbing paint onto the canvas to pull the imagery together, Heikes stains his surface using a combination of vinegar, salt, and powdered pigment. As they react, these substances generate vibrant and unpredictable hues. Seen under a Midwestern sky, where extreme weather threatens throughout the year, the paintings featuring sickly greens, eerie yellows, and iridescent oranges are particularly unsettling, recalling the moments spent waiting for a potentially catastrophic storm to strike. In those anxious instances, the sky becomes an ominous precursor to a main event that may arrive, but cannot be predicted with certainty. Indeed, Heikes is compelled by the notion that clouds suggest infinite possibilities. They can take on any shape, they morph quickly, and no cloud exists forever. At a time where the present often feels bleak, Heikes’ paintings point to a future that is unpredictable and only minutes away.

What's pictured: (above) Jay Heikes (American, born 1975), Mother Sky, 2018, oil on canvas, 47 1/8 x 65 1/8 in., Courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen, © Jay Heikes. Photo credit: Object Studies; (below) Jay Heikes (American, b. 1975), Minor Planet, 2017, oxidized copper, diameter: 14in., Courtesy the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York and Aspen, © Jay Heikes. Photo credit: Jason Wyche

Representing another celestial consideration, Heikes’ Minor Planets are crafted from bismuth—element number 83 on the periodic table—and crushed copper sheeting. The artist again exploits chemistry to create these orbs: while bismuth oxidizes quickly, taking on a pink tinge when exposed to air, copper’s corrosion is gradual. Heikes accelerates this process by applying a salt and vinegar solution to the sheet metal. As the sculptures age, flakes of salt that have absorbed the oxidized copper’s bluish-green hue fall to the floor. Heikes accepts the unpredictability inherent in the sculptures’ deterioration, explaining that the Minor Planets are his attempt to “do nature’s work in a way that is not practiced, concise, or refined."

Exhibition-Related Events & Programs

Thursday, July 18 @ 6 pm (cash bar and exhibition viewing @ 5 pm)

The Karen and Doug Riley Contemporary Artists Project Gallery

A 500-square-foot space in the Scott Pavilion suite of galleries, the Riley CAP Gallery showcases nationally- and internationally-recognized artists, as well as emerging talent, selected by Joslyn curators. A rotating schedule of intimate, carefully focused exhibitions will examine how artists engage with the world and respond to the issues that challenge them creatively, bringing new perspectives on contemporary art to Nebraska.

Riley CAP Gallery artists will be invited to Joslyn for lectures and other public programs, giving audiences the opportunity to gain insight into creative processes and contribute to an expanded dialogue about new art. The first Joslyn gallery dedicated exclusively to living artists, the Riley CAP Gallery represents an important step in making contemporary art an even more integral component of the Museum’s exhibition programming.