Five Minutes With: Artist Cabell Heyward

Artist adds a little whimsy to everyday scenes

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comDecember 9, 2011 

  • "Exactly the Kind of Show You Would Want to See in Times Like These" by Cabell Heyward runs through Dec. 31 at the Charles Street Gallery in Beaufort. An artist reception will be held from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. today.


Cabell Heyward doesn't paint nice marsh scenes or country landscapes. He may, but they very well might end up with cartoon ducks fighting.

The Beaufort artist frequently mixes the real with the surreal, and maybe a bit of whimsy, in his painting. The opening of his monthlong exhibit at the Charles Street Gallery is tonight.

Heyward, who's day job is as a home renovator, talks about how he gets ideas for his art.

Question. How would you describe what you do?

Answer. It's realism to a degree. I like the idea of studying the way things appear, which is a huge challenge in itself. But I'm not painting exactly like we'd all see. It's not objective reality. It seems more fun to me to impose situations that basically don't happen in the reality we're used to. To borrow a term, it might be magic realism.

Q. Has that evolved over time?

A. It's fairly consistent. The painting style has changed. It really used to be darker and kind of depressing. But you can't live very long doing that all the time. I feel that it has brightened up and become more optimistic in recent years. Meanwhile, the world is going straight to hell. Go figure.

Q. How did you come into art?

A. I had a salaried job in Atlanta. I used to work at Georgia Tech. But it just got to the point where I couldn't do it. It was an awakening, to a degree. And I went back to school (master's degree at University of Georgia) and it felt right. I was around 33 when that happened. Not quite a mid-life crisis but close.

Q. How do you like to paint? Do you plan much in advance or is it more spontaneous?

A. The more consciously I'm directing a painting the worse it is. The goal is to get out of conscious thinking and let the painting paint itself. It doesn't really happen like that often. Whenever I'm painting, I'm very suspicious of the normal me. It wants me to stay the hell out of it.

A painting I'm working on now started out at work. There was a house in the mountains we were working on. They had this balcony and this beautiful view. I took some pictures and came back and tried to reproduce the landscape. I wondered about that. It really wasn't a painting as is. But if I sat there and tried to plan something, it's not going to work. I can't feel like I can trust it. Then I just had an idea one day. It had to have ducks fighting. Just cartoon-y ducks going at it mid-air.

Q. Hey, if it works, go with it.

A. It might. Who knows how I came up with that. Later I might just decide, that's just too weird. It's risky, you don't even know where it came from in your own mind. You don't know how other people will react to it. But I tend to trust it more if I didn't work it out beforehand.

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