Pigeon Press (Portland, Oregon)
“I got a call one day and they asked if I wanted to work a five month, temporary position with high school students and I thought, ‘That would be fun and interesting, I’ve never worked with people that age’ and now, 12 years later, here I am.”
Heidi Kirkpatrick has a unique style of black and white photography that is drawing attention to more and more galleries. Her latest installation is a permanent collection at the Portland Art Museum.
Kirkpatrick is a member of the photo council at the Portland Art Museum and a large part of that job is to raise funds for acquisitions for the permanent collection. Once a year the members of the council get together to share work. This is when Dr. Julia Dolan, the Minor White Curator of Photography at the museum, met Kirkpatrick and showed interest in her work.
“That was the first time that Dr. Dolan saw my work and she gave me a very nice compliment,” Kirkpatrick said. “She told me that she would like to come to my studio, which is very exciting.”
Kirkpatrick is lucky enough to have a patron donor. Peter Buck, lead guitarist for the rock band R.E.M., bought her work and donated it to the Portland Art Museum for its permanent collection.
“We are happy to include Heidi’s work to the collection because we believe it is strong and Heidi is a well-known Portland-based artist who should be part of the collection,” Dolan said. “Working with Heidi was very easy. She is very professional and respectful of the acquisition process.”
Kirkpatrick has progressed from traditional black and white images printed on paper to three-dimensional pieces. Her work focuses on very personal issues that she wants to be meaningful to others such as family, history, love and loss.
“Throughout my career my work has explored the female figure, family narratives and contemporary issues of being a woman,” Kirkpatrick said. “Different bodies of work have been driven by things happening in my life. Addiction, body issue, disease and death to name a few.”
Kirkpatrick prints the images and places them in many different ways onto three dimensional objects; anything from small mint boxes to suitcases.
“It has been great watching it evolve over the years from more traditional flat black and white prints to the current work on objects,” Doug, Kirkpatrick’s husband, said. “A description- ‘photo-based objects.’ It is trés cool for me to see her works in a room full of photographers where she has the only pieces you cannot frame.”
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Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Springfield, Ohio, the second youngest in a family with four children. She has two older sisters and a younger brother, who she is very close with.
“It was small, Midwest, conservative, but it was free back then,” Kirkpatrick said.
They spent their childhood playing outside, riding bikes and skateboards until the streetlights came on. Kirkpatrick’s father worked as a civil engineer and surveyor while her mother stayed home.
“I went to a vocational school which did have a lot of arts but I took horticulture,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve always been into plants and gardening. That was my art, I didn’t really do a lot of arts in high school. I took some painting classes and made jewelry and I actually did do photography in high school but I didn’t have the bug.”
“I think I was bored to death in my regular public high school and I was failing,” Kirkpatrick said. “I think it was way too easy and it wasn’t stimulating enough and I would have really benefitted from going to a school like this one but that wasn’t an option.”
After graduating in 1977, Kirkpatrick wanted to take a gap year.
“I wanted to just not be in school,” Kirkpatrick said. “I always worked, I wanted to make some money and, you know, I had never not been in school since I was a little kid. It was very different than it is now, not nearly as much pressure on the young people like there is today.”
Her parents were very against the idea. Kirkpatrick ended up attending Ohio State University for one semester but hated it and dropped out.
In 1981, Kirkpatrick moved to Dallas, Texas. There she met her husband, Doug.
“We met in the gym,” Doug said. “I lifted weights with her brother, who I knew before Heidi.”
They got married in 1990. Kirkpatrick spent 12 years living in Dallas and took only one photography class.
“I had taken one class in Dallas but that was a whole different lifestyle and everything,” Kirkpatrick said. “Moving here was really the catalyst of me throwing myself into photography.”
They moved to Portland in September of 1993 because of Doug’s job. He worked long days during the week and Kirkpatrick found herself without a job or car. Kirkpatrick did not know anyone and the days became challenging. She then decided that she wanted to take photography classes.
“I started going to college when we moved here, but I wasn’t really concerned with getting a degree,” Kirkpatrick said. “I wanted to learn how to do photography better so I studied at Portland State. I wasn’t interested in getting credit. I wanted access to the darkroom because I fell in love with it right away.”
At the time, Kirkpatrick lived in the south park blocks and would walk to the Portland State University (PSU) darkroom, where she spent about 30 hours a week.
“I would walk around all the time and take pictures and I still kind of make the same kinds of pictures, but I’ve done all kinds of work,” Kirkpatrick said. “I really love studio work and I work with my friends and family, I don’t hire models, I like to work with people I know.”
Kirkpatrick helped the teachers at PSU, ran the student gallery and was exhibiting independently in small cafes around Portland.
“It’s really fun to see your work up on the wall and have people come and give you good feedback about the work and celebrate,” Kirkpatrick said.
She started working and taught a few workshops in a darkroom owned by a friend and decided that she wanted to teach. Kirkpatrick began to study and work towards getting a teaching degree, but soon realized that traditional college was not the right fit for her. In fact, her advisor was against the idea. She promptly stopped and continued working in the darkroom.
Kirkpatrick continued showing and selling her art in cafés. She got her first gallery show in Macree Gallery where she sold a piece of work.
“From there I ended up showing at one of the Big Ten galleries,” Kirkpatrick said, referring to Portland’s top ten art galleries. “Then I had some other smaller shows; it takes courage, there’s a lot of rejection. It’s not about sales but I like to work and I love to be with people so I just kept going. From there I got into the Alysia Duckler Gallery, ultimately she saw some of my work and ended up showing it. So my first big show was in 2000.”
Kirkpatrick is part of a non-profit named Photolucida, a place where photographers can come and share work and participate in portfolio reviews. This provides extra exposure for artists and opens the connections to galleries and publishers.
“It’s local which is a great way for me to meet people in the industry: gallery people, museums, publishers and some other artists,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s like a feeding frenzy in a really good way because you’re with so many like-minded people, it’s very supportive.”
Thanks to Photolucida, her work can be seen in three overseas galleries because of the people she met during gatherings. She is represented in Vienna, China and Barcelona.
Kirkpatrick is incredibly proud to have her work be part of a permanent collection in a museum so close to home.
“I must say it’s a dream come true,” Kirkpatrick said. “It still hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m very grateful, it’s a little surreal but I’m very excited.”
Photo credits to Pigeon Press