Sally Heppner
July 2015

For the past several years, my work has attempted to articulate my understanding and feeling about human interaction with nature and how humans respond to the surrounding environment. I am happiest and healthiest when in touch with where we come from—the more I absorb the beauty of what surrounds us, the more I feel a sense of wonder about what it means to be part of this unfathomable whole. Art opens me up to the natural world; I pay attention to shape, absorb color, bury my eyes in contrasting textures, and express deep emotion. 

In 2012 my world turned upside down when my son, Michael, died unexpectedly in his sleep. We will never know why. Within this profound grief my thoughts turn to life, death, and the nature of our being. In early 2015 I was selected to receive the Leigh Hyams Studio Residency in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. During the month of May I was able to focus intently on my exploration. Mexico, where the veil between life and death is not drawn so tightly, was a good place to continue my inquiry. I read everything I could get my eyes on, meditated while drawing in the rooftop garden, explored with luscious Mexican acrylic paint, and sequestered myself to dig deep into the difficult aspects of my craft. These works are the result of this time.

The concept of Dispersal came to me as I was working on a set of paintings based
on my garden meditations. I started by pushing panels of paper tightly together and painting as one painting, then separated them so they stand alone compositionally.
In the end, I put them together again to make sure they work together or separately. Dispersal is reminiscent of David Eagleman’s short story, Search, in his book,
Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives. The story begins:

In the moment of transition between life and death, only one thing changes: you lose the momentum of the biochemical cycles that keep the machinery running […] At that moment, the atoms begin to drift apart, no longer enslaved to the goals of keeping up a human form […] As you degrade, your atoms become incorporated into new constellations: the leaf of a staghorn fern, a speckled snail shell, a kernel of maize, a beetle’s mandible, a waxen bloodroot, a ptarmigan’s tail feather. But as it turns out your thousand trillion trillion atoms were not an accidental collection: each was labeled as composing you and continues to be so wherever it goes. So you’re not gone, you’re simply taking on different forms.

For Eagleman, you are everywhere at once, “ruffling your grasses and bending your pine branch and flexing an egret’s wings while pushing a crab toward the surface through coruscating shafts of light.” 

Dispersal expresses a thought I had last summer while sitting by a river near the base of Mt. Rainier, missing my son. Michael was a luminous soul, like Leigh, an artist to the core of his being. His medium was music; the sounds from his saxophone sublime. When he played, those listening were convinced they were experiencing the most unique event in the universe at that time. In the shadow of Mt. Rainier I was missing Michael’s music and filled with sorrow, knowing I would never hear him play or experience the joy of being near him again. When I opened my ears I realized I hear his music in the sound of the geese announcing their flight overhead, in the harmonies of river water dancing its way around and over boulders, in the chilled glacial wind whispering down a mountain’s flanks at dusk. When I open my eyes, I see Michael dispersed in the lush gardens of Mexico.