by Dennis Dalman
Three years ago, Sophia Heymans moved to Brooklyn, New York, but she is still attached body and soul, in her mind and in her imagination, to the place where she grew up – St. Joseph.
Heymans, a widely admired artist, will be at the center of an art exhibit titled “Afterimage” which opened on July 22 at “The Whitney”, a new art gallery in downtown St. Cloud. The free exhibition featuring 16 of his paintings will remain open until August 13. The gallery’s visiting hours for the public are 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
A reception, with Heymans as guest of honor, will take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., opening night, on Saturday, July 24.
The Whitney (also known as the “Whitney Gallery”) is located in the historic Whitney brick building at 505 St. Germain Street West.
Heymans’ works are mysterious and dreamlike evocations, mainly of landscapes, which combine images of the natural world with almost ghostly traces of human presence.
Born in Minneapolis, Sophia, daughter of Annie and Tim Heymans, moved to St. Joseph at the age of 5. The move was “natural” as her mother, born in St. Cloud, had many aunts and uncles in St. Cloud. Joseph, including his maternal grandparents, Juliana and Jerry Howard, who still live there.
Sophia and her sister Chloé, also a painter, were home schooled by their mother, also a tennis coach. Their father works for the Minnesota Department of Health and helps track down sexually transmitted diseases so people can be told to get tested and / or seek treatment. Sophia’s parents still live in Saint-Joseph.
Sophia and her husband, Paul Spring, originally from St. Cloud, moved to Brooklyn three years ago to be closer to its thriving arts and music scene. Spring, who did a lot of landscaping, is a part-time guitarist and music studio engineer in Brooklyn.
Paul and Sophia went to St. John’s Prep School at the same time and both had connections through family and friends with the two colleges – St. John’s University and St. Benedict’s College. . After graduation, Paul attended college in Texas, and Sophia received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design.
After reuniting in Minnesota, Sophia and Paul moved to Minneapolis and then back to St. Joseph.
During a remote interview with the Sartell Newsleader, Heymans, in Brooklyn, became nostalgic for Saint Joseph and its surroundings.
“We – my sister Chloe and I – could play outside without permission. We would cycle to town on our own and cycle to Loso’s store (grocery store) to buy candy. We loved eating Italian ice cream at the Meeting Grounds Cafe. Often then we would cycle to the beach at St. John’s University and walk to the chapel.
These happy childhood memories and love of being in – and at one with – nature are the main inspirations for Heymans paintings.
As children, these first experiences of Saint-Joseph unleashed the free-spirited imaginations of Sophia and Chloe. And they still do – as vital memories. Such images from the past (prairie lands, deep woods, lakes, vast skies, hills, bathing pits) frequently drift into Sophia’s reflections and dreams, forcing her to paint these “afterimages” – hence the name of his art exhibition.
It was the granite quarries of Waite Park that inspired one of Heymans’ largest and most intriguing works, “The Quarries,” which is on display at The Whitney exhibition.
Measuring 60 inches by 90 inches, “The Quarries” is a bird’s eye view of the water pools and surrounding piles of granite boulders and shavings. On the right are three large birches. A mother and her two daughters can be seen walking down a path in part of the image. The painting is very detailed and “realistic” and yet stylized and abstract, evoking a sort of whimsical and mysterious dreamy quality – a hallmark of many of Heymans’ paintings.
“I tried to paint ‘The Careers’ more how I feel than what it looks like,” she said. “I’ve always thought of careers that they’re pretty scary and mysterious.”
Heymans went through what she called her “post-human” subject in painting, creating landscapes devoid of human beings. She later worked hard with ways to bring people back to landscapes as part of nature, but never in a dominant way.
One of his paintings depicts a frenzied abstract burst of ocean waves, and the waves are actually a stirring of squiggles and stirs that resemble waving human fingers.
Heymans often uses unpainted objects in his images, such as mop cords and dryer lint, to name just two. When she was little, her mother kept wondering why the kitchen broom seemed to lose her sons, getting thinner and thinner every week. Well, one day she caught Sophia in the act, cutting the strings of the mop for her art. The mop ropes, placed just like that on a canvas, make perfect tree branches, she said. Dryer fluff glued to the canvas can create unique subtle colorings. Once the sub-objects are fixed, Heymans always uses oil paint to cover them. But the objects under the paint give the surface of the image an intriguing texture that helps draw viewers almost head first into the paintings.
In an essay she wrote, Heymans said this about her art:
“For three years, I’ve lived in New York (the Brooklyn neighborhood), but all of these paintings are rooted in memories of central Minnesota. These are afterimages, like the brightness left in your eyesight after looking at the sun. They are nostalgic for this place but above all for a feeling of belonging. I wanted to make these fleeting feelings of connection permanent. Humans are psychologically intertwined with their surroundings, secured together in a strong knot. There is no (human) domination, no possession.