APRIL 11 – MAY 23, 2014


FELDSPAR blurs the differences between found and hand-made objects and explores the materiality of form in the use of materials like plexiglass and other translucent plastics

MIKE HEIN was born in Cincinnati, OH and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He received a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design and an MFA from Syracuse University. Hein’s work has been exhibited at Mulherin Pollard, NY, Edward Thorpe, NY, Acuna Hansen, LA, Pamona College, LA and in Canada at Eyelevel Gallery, NS. This is his first exhibition in Alberta.




The works in Mike Hein’s Feldspar thrive on the spirit of personal discovery. Just as Feldspar, the mineral that makes up 60% of the Earth’s crust, is simultaneously exquisite, useful, and common, Hein’s pieces are both grounded in reality and ethereal. He pairs found and handmade objects together in a way that make unnatural associations look natural. Moving a step beyond simply marking distinctions between painting and sculpture, Hein proposes art as artifacts of lived experience. It’s a vision where beauty, darkness, and restrained humor exist in one.

Coming out of a distinctive kind of searching, Hein spends very little time in an art supply store. In most cases, he is not purposely looking for materials or objects in order to create a piece. It is more likely that he comes upon them in his daily life in Brooklyn, uncovers them after shooting photographs, gathers them while taking long, solitary hiking trips, or honing his craft while building a cabin. These practices are essential elements to this body of work and appear in each piece in various permutations.

Hein’s Feldspar, his common element, is Plexiglas. As an encasement, it synthesizes and sparks a subtle transformation. It acts as a stand-in for an obstruction, and a lens. It transforms the fabrications from casual assemblages, making them more akin to diaries. Speaking of his piece Middle of the Road, he stated:

It allowed me to add permanence and put some care into it. It’s not just a piece of bent cardboard pinned to a wall. That’s what I didn’t want to do. At the same time, I love the way bent cardboard looks. It gave me the courage to be able to do it, by making it important to myself. If that was just a piece of raw cardboard and those were just plastic rods, and that was just a doorstop, how would I make that go together? It gave me all kinds of possibilities.

Many of the works in Feldspar germinated during Hein’s time spent outside of the city. A few years ago, he began building a cabin in upstate New York, which ran parallel to his increased interest in hiking and photography. Here, he used what he had known from making art in the past, fine-tuning his craft and finding new ways to make objects utilitarian and sustainable. It’s where it all comes together again, the “exquisite, useful, and common”.

Hein took thousands of photos on these hiking trips around the cabin and elsewhere. Instead of being used as stand-alone pieces of art, they are mainly used as medium. Dianeand Photo Found in a Chunk of Ice are the only pieces in Feldspar where a photograph is a part of the actual work, and even in those cases, they are used in very different ways. Diane is a photo of an intricate wood carving Hein found in the side of a lean-to, combined with an awkward faux-wooden frame. Photo Found in a Chunk of Ice is a landscape photograph buried in what appears as an ice formation. The photo inside is of a barren upstate New York forest after a brutal winter.

Looking at these two works together illustrates how his use of materials evolves meaning from one work to the next, flipping the real and unreal. Diane is strange and evocative, but still clear and explicit. The inscription itself brought up a lot of questions for him (i.e. “Where is Diane now? Why was she out here in the middle of nowhere in October of 1970?”), and the repurposing of it as a sign with its kitschy frame brings a whole new set of questions to the viewer (i.e., “Is Diane real or is this inscription fabricated? If this is a sign, what is it trying to indicate?”). On the opposite side, Photo Found in a Chunk of Iceis clearly a photograph (because you see the edges of the paper), but most of it is obscured through the foggy encasement.

Back in his Brooklyn studio or apartment, everyday life enters the work. In Drifting Cat, the outline of his cat lying on the floor is transposed onto a piece of wood and then encased in Plexi. Just as the cat did, the work sits on the floor, appearing as a mysterious shadowy mass hovering over a red light and immortalized in a strange clear box. A piece of foam from the East River rests between the cat’s legs.

Brooklyn is also the place where most of the pieces are fully realized. In the case of Untitled (Table Top), Hein found a laminated tabletop that had been discarded on the street. There’s a subtle bow to it and an indent from a potted plant. Placing the sculpture where floor and wall meet, it rests on the wall wood and alludes to the transition between the land and sky. Here we see two different ways to tell a story; one completely fabricated and the other almost untouched, save for the addition of plexi.

For Hein, the less obvious is the more generative for discussion, and it centers on this process. It taps so deeply into the self—one person’s experience—yet also leaves much room for contemplation and reflection. Each piece is a unique proposal while also managing to connect with the other pieces, extending the suggestions, the faint traces, of an unknowable story. There are so many things happening, but nothing makes itself obvious. Like life, there’s a realistic and sensible beauty co-existing with dark but honest directness. 



JON LUTZ is an independent curator, writer, and gallery director in Brooklyn, NY. He holds an MA in Art History from Hunter College, NYC. He began an independent curatorial project entitled Daily Operation (dailyoperation.org) in 2005. He is now director at Sardine (sardinebk.com), a gallery in Brooklyn.  


Stride recorded this artist talk with Mike Hein on April 12, 2014:

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