“Bend and Not Brake,” says Tao Te Ching.
This motto motivates Rod Heiss to paint. In his early years, due to undiagnosed eye problems, he was unable to learn the way most children do. School was difficult and defeating. He was constantly being reminded of his differences and being told “YOU CAN’T DO THIS” or “YOU CAN’T DO THAT.” Rod turned to working with his hands to compensate for the lack of confidence school created.
A new world opened up for him, a world that lacked barriers. Now it seemed that anything was possible. He began a new path of learning how to learn. And this is when his creative instincts began to take root. Years of unstructured training brought a new understanding of how to bring ideas together and see them to completion.
A defining moment occurred one restless evening. He was watching television and saw a documentary on Jackson Pollock. This two-hour program was a revelation to him. An overwhelming desire to paint took hold. Without fear, he attacked canvases like Pollock, using his style as a foundation. Soon, however, Rod found his own vocabulary and imitation turned to unique creation. He enrolled in the Academy of Art College in San Francisco, where he learned to channel his raw ability. This resulted in years of creativity in painting and sculpture.
Then life got in the way. Painting and sculpture stopped. He started to bend again.
In a particularly dark period of paralyzing fear and self-doubt, Rod turned back to art. He rediscovered his language. He has been creating nonstop ever since. First, he turned to sculpture, but has since returned to painting. The world of “anything is possible” is once again open.
Bend and not brake is now what keeps him from sitting still and motivates him to continue the exploration of a world without FEAR!
Stylistically Rod Heiss’ work pays homage to Abstract Expressionism, but his paintings are not simple replications of Jackson Pollock. Rather, his painted canvases make reference to design, a trade that requires meticulous attention to detail, obsession with the grid, and strict exactness marked by a complete accordance to minute measurements.
Yet it is exactly this grid that is continuously deconstructed, liquefied and obliterated in his paintings. With titles such as Attack! Attack! Attack! and Divide the Light, Heiss’ work negotiates between grid and abstract, exactness and free expression and bespeaks his long invested study of Taoist philosophy.
In fact, his work seemingly makes reference to the classic Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching, which says, “Bend and not brake. Curl and you will be straight. Keep empty and you will be filled.”
Like a visual mediation, Heiss’ lines bend, curl and consciously keep themselves empty—empty of narrative, empty of strictness, empty of measurements. Yet, the continual presence of the grid in disruption manifests the yin and yang connection found in Heiss’ work, between strictness and expression, shadow and light, grid and abstraction.
The paintings function like a cartographic landscape and are a balanced map of structures that continually give rise to chaos.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.