THE ARTWORK OF RICHARD HEIPP
THE EAKINS PROJECT (2007-2009)
Heipp is fascinated with “how the invention of photography changed the nature of how we see the world and subsequently forever altered the role of the painter as the primary documentarian of our visual world.” Heipp adds that, “the great American painter, photographer, and teacher Thomas Eakins’ practice represents the perfect fulcrum for this change where from a point of rest, a change is set in motion.”
Heipp was first exposed to Eakins’ photographs at the Philadelphia Museum in Art and later at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Heipp had previously painted images by the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who first captured images of figures in motion. However, Eakins represented the fusion of both painting and photography. As Heipp learned more about Eakins, he wanted to recycle Eakins’ unused images as sources for his own paintings. In 2005, Heipp received permission from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s photography department to re-photograph their entire Eakins collection. In handling these objects, Heipp “felt a kinship with Eakins as a teacher and artist.” He was “struck by the originality of his [Eakins’] investigation as well as the beauty and honesty of Eakins’ images and objects.” Eakins was interested in exploiting the capabilities of this new technology. The camera was a new mechanical image capture device that could be used by the painter. For Eakins, the camera was also a teaching device comparable to anatomical drawing that served as a valuable tool for the “modern” artist. Heipp wanted to recontextualize and recycle Eakins’ analog camera investigations and combine them with the “new modern” digital scanned image capture technology. The Eakins Project examines how we look and see ourselves while respecting and reinterpreting the academic tradition of figure painting.