Federica Schiavo Gallery
Jay Heikes
Mother Sky
oil on stained canvas
124 × 169 × 6.5 cm
Short Description

Mother Sky is a recent series of painted screens by the American artist Jay Heikes (Princeton, New Jersey, 1975. Lives and works in Minneapolis) in which he depicts cloudy skies in vibrant and unnatural colors.


Mother Sky refers to the title of the 1969 song by the German experimental rock group Can which influenced Heikes’s latest works along with writings by the Tibetan Buddhist Milarepa. When describing this new series, Heikes references Milarepa’s unease when thinking about clouds on a perfect blue sky, saying that he instead regards clouds as soothing. He states “Maybe I was always more comfortable with the unease and distraction contained in fluffy clouds but was just ashamed to illustrate it because of its perceived decorative nature. Yet for so many generations of artists reaching for the sublime was an avant-garde call to arms that appeared irresistible.”


In this series, Heikes approaches his work with the sensibility of a sculptor, employing the chemical processes that have long informed his three-dimensional work. The artist stains the canvas using a combination of vinegar, salt, and powdered pigment. As they react, these substances generate unpredictable hues, ranging from rust, indigo, copper, and fluorescent greens. Screen printed and dabbed on the canvases are voluminous shapes of clouds and smoke, composed from distortions of found and photographed images. The euphoria in the otherworldly and meditative vistas simultaneously cause an underlying unease through the eerie and acidic tones of the tempestuous, burning skies that layer the canvas. The imagined atmospheres, at first an escapist opportunity for the viewer, reflect an inability to create complete control.





“The sheer vastness of a wide-open space is imbued with feelings of emptiness - only in a cave or canyon can the gesture of a scream be returned. Through the last four years of alienation and the recent time collectively spent in isolation, I began to see the idea that in retreating to an imagined vastness, such as through a painting of the sky, the works become representations that keep us grounded and avoid the total void of the sublime “.

(Jay Heikes, 2020).