By Susan Marquez. Photography by Tom Beck.
In a large sun-filled room on the second floor of the Triangle Cultural Center in downtown Yazoo City, artist Dennis Heckler surveys his studio.
A converted classroom, the large studio space still has the original chalkboards that span most of two walls, while banks of windows line the remaining walls. The 1904 building was originally constructed to be a school, and many of the original fixtures remain, from the door to the lights to the hardwood floors. Paintings fill the studio. Most of them are landscapes, etched into Heckler’s memory from years of driving through the southernmost part of the Mississippi Delta from Yazoo City to Jackson each day.
Worn yet comfortable furniture in the middle of the room creates a welcoming area for the artist and his guests to converse. Heckler has always liked drawing and has done so since he was a child living in Buffalo, New York. “Like most boys, I was fascinated with cowboys and Indians,” sees Heckler. Out of that fascination came an interest in the western desert region of the United States. “I was an illustrator and graphic designer in New York, and when a job came open for an art director in New Mexico, I moved there.”
Heckler enjoyed his time in the desert, hiking, camping and studying the sunsets and the ever-changing colors of the earth. His artist’s eye began to see how light had an effect on the surrounding landscape. But adventure and career opportunities called and Heckler moved to where the work was, living in Atlanta, Charleston, Denver and Jackson. “I have actually lived in Jackson twice,” he says. “The first time I moved to Jackson was in 1979; I moved from New Mexico right after the Easter flood in Jackson. I lived here a few years then moved to Charleston, South Carolina.” He met his wife, an advertising copy editor, in Charleston, and the couple moved to Jackson as a creative team to work for an ad agency. The couple both worked in advertising for many years but have recently retired.
Twenty years ago, they were looking for a place they could combine their vast collection of antiques. “When we got married, we each had a home, and each home was filled with antiques,” Heckler says. “We wanted a place where we could combine our collections and showcase them properly.” After looking at old homes throughout the mid-Mississippi area, the Hecklers found an historic home in downtown Yazoo City that suits them perfectly. They have been in the home for eighteen years.
Throughout that time, Heckler drove daily from Yazoo City to Madison. Each day he admired the views from his car window, often stopping to take photographs. Many of those scenes now appear in his paintings. “I am also a plein air painter,” says Heckler. “I’ve painted all over the Delta, traveling the backroads. That has allowed me to meet some of the nicest people. It gives me great pleasure when people stop to see what I am painting and they notice, maybe for the first time, what a beautiful place they may have overlooked.”
While still working in advertising, Heckler spent his spare time painting. His efforts have paid off; he has won numerous awards including several ‘best of show’ at art shows in Mississippi, as well as in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Florida, and he’ll be showing his work at the prestigious Kentuck Festival of the Arts in Northport, Alabama, in October.
His work has sold in galleries and in private collections in Europe as well. In 2015 he was selected to participate in the Oil Painters of America eastern regional juried exhibition that hung at a prestigious gallery in Indianapolis, Indiana. Earlier this year, Heckler was awarded a spot in the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society international exhibit.
Now that he is retired, Heckler is looking forward to being a full-time artist as well as to serving as an ambassador for the arts. “That’s important to me. I want to see more interest in art, for people to become more visually sensitive. There is too much time, in my opinion, spent in front of iPads and televisions. Art should make you think, even create an emotional response to it. If people would take the time to really observe art, to feel the texture of a piece of pottery or study the brush strokes in a painting, they’d have more of an appreciation of art and the artist.” Heckler says that he is contemplating writing blog posts on why art is important.
Most of Heckler’s work is created in oils, primarily using only palette knives to create the lifelike clouds, trees and landscapes. He fans out an array of paint-spattered palette knives of all sizes to show the tools of his trade. But he’s also painting with watercolor, a medium he finds very satisfying as well. Heckler says that while he’s in the studio, he paints listening to music, ranging from bluegrass, jazz and gospel to indie, punk rock and classical. “I have a wide range of musical tastes,” he laughs.
Heckler says that painting is so different from his work in advertising. “With advertising, it’s identifying a problem then coming up with a solution. I couldn’t always make that connection with fine art. Now I can. I have always been an active outdoors person who is environmentally conscious. I think it’s my duty, of sorts, to paint things and locations that may not exist for long. I feel compelled to paint places where I like to spend time, and that gives me purpose. Standing in a meadow with trees swaying in the breeze and sunshine on my face is my new office. Hopefully, what I do with my work will make people happy and spend a little time in a special place in one of my paintings.”
For more on Dennis Heckler’s work visit his website at www.dennishecklerpaintings.com.
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