The SLU Contemporary Art Gallery is proud to feature a selection of artworks in memory of the highly prolific artist and Southeastern Alumna, Heather Vallaire. Heather attended the Visual Art + Design Department as a student of sculpture and graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts.
Throughout her career at Southeastern she explored a variety of media including sculptural body casting, photography, and painting. For her graduating thesis exhibition Heather created a series of large scale photographs depicting plaster casts she made of her hands. Heather was born with a condition that created physical impairments in her limbs, and the physical and emotional impact this had on her life was often a central theme in her artwork.No doubt these themes are prominent among the pieces exhibited here.
In many of the works we see a feminine protagonist bound and blindfolded by a mysterious fabric that constrains and limits the figures’ movement. In one painting we see a whimsical protagonist wading across a familiar swampy terrain, in stilts and a bird mask, as if to blend in with the fauna endemic to marsh territory found in Vallaire’s homeland of Southeastern Louisiana. The tension in these works comes not only from the representations of figures who are tethered and tied, but also the didactic mood they set of resiliency and struggle. Another recurring motif in many of Heather’s works is the bellied feminine figure.
As a young artist and mother, Heather recognized her pregnancy and experience of motherhood as a turning point in her life and one that left her forever changed and inspired.
Heather Vallaire’s artistic style aligns with many of the surrealist painters at the turn of the 20th century like Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington who sought asylum in Mexico City away from the treachery of the Second World War. These artists pursued images shaped by their personal biographies, their life long traumas, and unconscious desires and anxieties. Like Varo and Carrington Heather Vallaire shared similar pains shaped by exile, isolation, and personal struggle that filter through in the artist’s imagery. Vallaire’s paintings also share a propensity toward surrealist fantasy—femme figures are seen in a state of ecstasy, despair, and contemplation amongst mythical landscapes in a kind of suspension of disbelief. The works evoke an immersive feeling that overwhelms the viewer in feelings of joy, tension, and empathy for the central figure. The imagery is at once reverential and emotional.
Heather left us too soon and we are deeply saddened to lose such a creative force in our community. We hope this selection of artworks lends itself to remembering the pride, resiliency, and brilliance of such a talented former student, artist, mother, and friend and the artistic legacy she leaves behind.