As a painter, I work impulsively, harnessing the power of gestures to create instinctive compositions that combine bold colours, dynamic marks and organic forms. Rather than using brushes or other traditional tools, I apply paint with scraps of plastic, such as hotel-room key cards, or draw and scratch at the surface using the paint tube itself. The fine edges of my chosen instruments allow me to draw long, penetrating lines and create large, highly saturated fields of colour.
Many of my paintings have a sculptural quality, thanks to the way I build up layers. I often integrate extra materials into my work to create an effect of relief, stitching extra pieces of canvas onto the surface or incorporating sections of paper with paint or glue. These different materials allow for multiple levels of colour and saturation.
For my sculptures, I start with discarded pieces of wood and transform these into unexpected, biomorphic shapes reminiscent of those found in my paintings. I use tools such as chainsaws or planers to enact this metamorphosis – an approach that recalls my use of plastic or glass in the two-dimensional pieces. In both cases, my hands-on method enables me to be as physically and emotionally connected with my work as possible, empowering me to turn the image in my mind’s eye into a reality.
The catalog from my first solo exhibition in London at The Stephen Lacey Gallery in Clerkenwell, was written by Richard Morphet. Richard joined the Tate Gallery in 1966 and retired in 1998. His first appointment was as Assistant Keeper of the Modern Collection, becoming Deputy Keeper of it in 1973, and subsequently Keeper from 1986 until 1998.
Here are some excerpts from his writing andas well as catalog images:
"All the works in this exhibition have a quality of spontaneity. The intuitive character of their process of creation is exposed and they also declare Heather Chontos’s love of materials. She applies paint with putty knives, old credit cards, and pieces of broken glass, to give greater immediacy than she finds possible with brushes. The paintings display a dialogue between thick and thin. Fields of colour sometimes have a texture of ripples, where scraping has started and stopped. "
"In all three groups Chontos nearly always gives prominence to a solid block or plane, against which more ‘fleeting’ marks acquire an enhanced sense of animation. In the paintings on paper these marks are sweeping painterly gestures, but in the canvases and the contrastingly colourful sheets they include free-floating smudges that read like the traces of transitory experiences. In these latter two groups, however, the most expressive foil to the large monochrome blocks is a vigorous yet slender line. Chontos’s line is cursive, yet it has a wiry tautness that recalls certain sculptures of the 1950’s. This analogy confirms the strong feeling of space evident in the canvases and the collages, and in these and in the paintings on paper a work’s literal dimensions tend to be belied by the sense of scale and openness with which Chontos imbues it."
"In their emphasis on the properties of materials, on the act of making and on the process of discovery these works are redolent of the studio, but this is not their only context. Chontos works also as a fashion illustrator and as an interiors stylist. These disciplines have heightened her feeling for the relationship between any mark or sign and the space that encloses it. This sense is acute in the drawings with collage but is evident, too, in her use of letter forms. Sometimes stark, sometimes almost camouflaged, letters appear in all Chontos’s paintings; indeed, she finds it difficult to complete a canvas without inscribing them. A letter form may allude to the theme or subject particular to the painting in which it appears. Alternatively, Chontos may simply be celebrating its shape and sound, but either way a letter is a trace of her state of mind at the time. Her obsessive practice of forming letters combines with the reiteration and the assertiveness of her line to suggest an analogy between her paintings and the pages of a journal."
"These pictures are indeed like a continuous narrative, an unplanned, inner chronicle of Chontos’s life. It is a life centered on the city; perhaps significantly, green and blue barely appear in her work. She lives and works in London, but on one level her paintings are a record of concentrated visits to the two cities of greatest importance to her, New York and Barcelona. They are a response to things seen, to stories heard and to her feelings both about a city and when in it. One might expect the resulting paintings to be celebrations, but for Chontos they are acts of mourning. They encapsulate her sense of loss at being again removed from where she wishes to be. There is an interplay between the dark and raw and the gentle and tender; emotion is registered at the same time as visual recollection of a place."
the paintings are a fierce release. But they are also about the moment of their making, and this occurs amid the demands of work in several disciplines, as well as those of motherhood and family life. Thus we do not require poetic license to see in these pictures images at once of security and of precarious brinks, of relaxation but also of a ceaseless activity that is the tempo at once of the city and of this artist.
Chontos is prepared to include anything from her life in these pictures, with results that are unpredictable and at times uncomfortable. At the same time they show a generous openness and an avowal of self that are characteristically American. For English viewers they will sometimes recall St. Ives – associated art of the 1950’s, though that affinity is less conscious than with the sign-inscribing, place-evoking and self declaratory paintings of the Catalan Tapies or of Twombly. These artists, too, were already established in the 1950’s, but when Chontos adopts certain pictorial idioms of their generation she does so with the inflection of her own much younger age group.
The liveliness of these works derives in part from their integration of opposed ideas. Deep space is fused with insistent flatness. Suggestions of dark chasms or decayed walls, even of wounds, evoke a hard urban milieu impervious to the individual, and grounds are harshly divided into contrasting tones, yet all this coexists with the softer hues of lipstick or powder and with images of connection. In painting after painting, the tendency of Chontos’s line to be out in the world, wandering and exploring, is balanced by her instinct to form it into an enclosure. The movement of this line creates a kind of dance in space and time. Nevertheless, the effect of these works is not one of play, but rather of being alive in the city today, in all its vitality and its complexity. "
Richard Morphet 2001