About Summer J Hart
Trained in printmaking and book arts, Summer J. Hart combines traditional elements of etching, drawing, and figurative painting with a taste for the gothic, abstract, and decorative. Recent series explore the psychological space of figure and portrait paintings, Victorian photography, and the weird zone in which zoological illustrations turn into images of childhood.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was very young I fantasized about riding diving horses. As this was an unlikely career path (no time machine, too tall, etc…), I decided I would write and illustrate children’s books.
What sparked your interest in printmaking & book arts?
My first year of college at the Hartford Art School, I met Professor Jim Lee. Jim is a book artist and printmaker. Learning of my love of storytelling and children’s book art, Jim suggested that I take his Introduction to Book Arts the next fall. As a prerequisite to the book course, I had to complete a requirement in printmaking. I signed up for Intaglio I and was almost instantly hooked. My illustration course was not going well—I felt stifled by the restrictive guidelines for assignments. The printmaking studio, however, was this glorious place of tactile and communal creativity. I can still smell the ink I wore under my nails all those years. I loved everything about printmaking: laboriously filing plates, painting them with asphalt or dusting them with tree rosin, using a needle to draw lines to feed to the eerie green bath I had to stir with a feather…
That semester Jim introduced me to another professor, Fred Wessel. Possibly recognizing in my prints a fellow obsessive, Fred spun me tales of ancient limestone quarries and promised to help me learn to draw like the masters.
With the book arts class came an introduction to letterpress (moveable type!!) and that sealed the deal.
Plus, the TA was cute. Actually, maybe that sealed the deal.
We found you at the RAW art show. What is your favorite part of showcasing your work?
I have a studio in my home, so I mostly draw alone. If I’m not careful, my drawings become the only things that inform my drawings. My family and friends offer a lot of input, but I miss the energy that comes from working in a space with other artists. The showcase brings people together for a frenzied one-night affair, and can serve a similar function as school or a shared studio—a deadline and a lot of feedback.
I also like to see my art in context. There are strong narrative themes in my work that I feel become apparent only when viewed within a collection. I value people’s reactions to the worlds I’m making. My drawings can be spooky and sad to me, but other people see only joy. Some see a girl where I have drawn a boy. Then again, maybe that is a girl. A showcase offers a chance for reflection.
You state that, “Recent series explores the psychological space of figure and portrait paintings”. Can you elaborate on that?
I should revise that.
Interstitial states are what I find most interesting: that space between waking and sleeping, grief and joy, life and death. I am influenced by Victorian photo-collage and photography, the fantastical elements in children’s literature and creation myths, and any artform that appears as though a tremendous amount of training, sweat, tears, and cleverness went into making it.
I juxtapose figures and patterned backgrounds and black and white and color to create a sense of disconnection and otherworldliness. This may be the psychological space I was referring to.
There are a lot of woodland creatures in your art. How does nature influence your work?
I’m from a small mill town in northern Maine. I tried to walk away, but the woods caught up.
You are part of Brooklyn Collective. Can you tell us how that experience has been for you?
Amazing. I covet everything there and the lovelies who run it.
What was your most pivotal moment of your career so far?
I tried the gallery scene for a while, with representation in Chicago and New Orleans. Unfortunately, this was during the peak of the financial crisis, and I was an unknown as an investment, and a bit edgy for corporate collectors. At the time, I was painting large canvases of Victorian-styled children paired with birds or animals that raided bird’s nests. I used a tiny brush and painted giant birds, weasels, foxes, and glassy-eyed children, using cross-hatching to mimic etchings. I called it my Songbirds series.
I had a solo show of the Songbirds for White Linen Night in New Orleans in 2009. It was called “Shining With the Secret of It,” a phrase appropriated from a favorite book of mine.
So, that gallery folded and the one in Chicago sold one piece in four years. This combined with the gallery 50% commission, what little did sell left me frustrated and kind of desperate. We were living in Illinois at the time, but when my husband, son, and I moved to NYC in 2010, it was with the understanding that I would have to get a day job.
But, I had to find a way to keep making art, so I started drawing smaller and faster.
Where do you see your career in 5, 10 years?
I was going to say riding diving horses, but it seems like I want to get back into printmaking. I’m going to have to make that happen this fall.
In five years I would like to tip the balance of energy from my job toward my art career. In ten years, I’d like to be making a living off my art. I have been entertaining the idea of renting a storefront somewhere in the Hudson River Valley and starting a collective.
What was the best advice you have received? (or a bit of advice for the reader)
If someone offers to buy a painting now that you are planning for a show later, sell it and paint another.