Julie Heffernan Interviewed in “Between Two Pines”

I wanted to share this recent interview with painter and MMFA artist JULIE HEFFERNAN that was recently published by the McDowell Fellows online magazine Between Two Pines“. 


Julie Heffernan is a painter whose imaginative landscapes, which she has referred to as self-portraits, evoke Baroque sensibilities and depict alternative habitats and calamitous events related to climate change. Born in Peoria, IL, she received her BFA in Painting and Printmaking from UC Santa Cruz and her MFA in Painting from Yale. She has shown in numerous galleries in New York and around the country and is the recipient of many grants and Fellowships including an NEA grant, a NYFA grant, and a Fulbright-Hayes grant to West Berlin. She was at the McDowell Fellows Colony in 2012 and is a member of the committee planning our upcoming May 1, 2017 National Benefit in NYC in which her work will be featured.  Visit her website here.


What is the last thing you saw/read/listened to that inspired you?

Oh what a good question! I’m listening to a Hidden Brain podcast about a guerilla gardener in South Central LA by the name of Ron Finley who realized the food choices for folks in his neighborhood were killing them as much as the shootings (Drive-ins as bad as the Drive-bys, he says), so he turned his front yard into an urban garden, and people could simply stop by and pick themselves an avocado or pomegranate anytime they wanted.  If they could they’d also bring something over to the garden to share with others.

Also just read a chilling piece in this week’s New Yorker by Jane Mayer about the moneyman behind Trump’s ascendancy – hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer – and his libertarian, climate change-denying agenda to create essentially an oligarchy in America. Chilling stuff.

What is the best free advice you ever received?

I get free advice all the time from my beloved NPR, so, from the urban guerilla Ron Finley mentioned above, it would have to be to give it away as much as possible.  In reference to the source of the derogatory term “Indian giver” –stemming from indigenous people’s potlatch ceremonies and predicated on the idea of re-gifting– giving something precious away that the receiver then offers over to someone else in turn and so on, that is the original way of paying it forward.  Keep the gift in circulation and it creates a sense of the world being a bounteous place. Be Indian givers in the true sense of the term.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Dark chocolate, of course. Beyond that I’m at a point in my life where no pleasure makes me feel guilty.  Even gossip, stemming from the word “gospel” (or “godspell”) can be an unguilty pleasure when it’s in the service of trying to figure out how the world works, via our friends and family. I know that sounds boring but really – how could real pleasure ever truly be bad??   “You do not have to be good/You do not have to crawl on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting?/You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” -Mary Oliver

If you could live in another time and/or place, when/where would you choose and why?

I used to think Elizabethan England because of going to too many Renaissance fairs when I was a teenager, and I’m inclined to say I would like to have been a conscious being during the Civil Rights era in the South, where you could see real heroism happening on the streets.  But I realize we are in a horrible, difficult time right now, so just like those folks who were willing to put their lives on the line for equality, as true American heroes, we have to step up right now and behave like heroes too.  SO, I choose now.

MacDowell turns 110 this year – what do you think the world will be like when you turn 110?

I’m guessing Florida and other coastal areas will be all but gone, along with much of India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, China, etc. and either it’s mass chaos everywhere or the world’s people will be on their way to doing something about the climate crisis. Experts will finally be focusing their energies on coming up with ingenious strategies for energy storage, but all of us will have had to rise to the occasion because the 2+ degree experiment will have taken place and we’ll all be living with the consequences of our in/actions.  (Exxon Mobil will be gone, am I right??) Either we’ll be massively more engaged, or toast.

Question from Arturo O’Farrill: Is there a way to find hope in this terrible age of lies, greed and the worst of humanity being the dominant culture?  

I wrote this yesterday: “I’ve been reading about ‘presentism’ – the notion that what is happening now will continue to be the case; but it won’t be like this for too long and we know that.  What we’re seeing goes against everything we have built that constitutes American values, and people care about those values. Most people can see through this ridiculous person leading our country in name alone, and his cronies in Congress as well.  And if they can’t right now, they’ll figure it out later, in the same way that Germans figured out Hitler was a maniac.  We will figure it out.  No one likes to be lied to.  We are confronting particular people in the Republican party now with a different psychological inclination, one more akin to sociopathy than conservatism, and when enough people see this is a different breed of politician altogether, the kind that will bend any value to achieve their ends, they will vote them out.”

But after reading Jane Mayer’s article, I’m not so sure anymore. Mayer traces how billionaire Robert Mercer invested heavily in Breitbart News and other alt right interests essentially to reduce the US government to a “pinhead.”  He’s a big investor in Cambridge Analytica, “a firm that mines online data to reach and influence potential voters. The company has said that it uses secret psychological methods to pinpoint which messages are the most persuasive to individual online viewers.”  Egad.

What question would you like to ask the next Fellow? (Please provide your own answer, too!)

I would like someone to give me the definitive answer to how to speak to someone with confirmation bias. 

There has to be a way.  We know from many studies that facts don’t change a person’s mind, and there was also the study that told us you can change a person’s opinion by putting them in sympathetic contact with someone who personifies the qualities they disagree with, but that study turned out to be bogus.  So I would love some help with this problem.

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