Suggesting the Subconscious: An Interview with David Hefner

David Hefner is known for his swirling, psychedelic repetitions, and his meticulous explorations of wood grain. He sat down with me to answer a few questions about his method and his mission.

Kevin Ivester: Where do you find your plywood?

David Hefner: Buying new wood is no fun. I’m always on the lookout for weathered plywood, the older the better. When I come upon wood, I look at it, decide. I’m always working against the sentence, “Please don’t bring that home.” Balanced against, “ I regret I didn’t bring that home.” Thus, I bring it all home, lean it against the studio and shop and over time – decide.

The Bosch table is the perfect example. The table had fallen off a truck on a MoPac ramp. I stopped and looked at it and said out loud, “I could abstract The Garden of Earthly Delights into that!” (It took some doing.)

image (1).jpeg“Abstracting Bosch”, 42″ Diameter, oil on wood


KI: Can you describe your method?

DH: The work begins with a lot of just staring at the wood, and trying to see it in transformation. The corner painting, I stared at those boards together over several years, really just trying to talk myself out of committing to such an odd, impractical, thing to do. But occasionally the composition would rise from the wood grain and reach across the corner space between the walls and I had to try for it. Color is the game in trying to make things move.


KI: How much does the existing wood grain predict the final painting?

DH: It’s the start. The original wood grain pattern is the impetus, it get developed, altered, but even with inevitable changes, I want the painting’s composition to feel that it is organic. I’m seeking subconscious imagery, but I want that imagery to be the viewer’s own, I intentionally try not to impose – I mean to just suggest.


KI: When you see a discarded piece of plywood or surface on the side of the road, what are some attributes that might inspire you to take it home?

DH: “Does it grab me?” “Does it make a sentence?” One of the paintings in our exhibition is titled, “Hedging on the Title”. When I saw the board, an oddly cut piece of construction scrap, in a wood pile in northern New Mexico, I asked, “Do twins share a placenta or are there Double Placentas?” I have no idea why my mind thought of that – it is not a question I had ever consciously asked before and, of course, it has nothing to do with that board. That’s my example: that is what I want for the viewer, that something of their own comes to mind and the thought interests them.

When I see old wood, the goal is to leave it where it is, but I look at it and if it connects and compels then I bring it with me. This is part of the joy of having a little truck and a back yard. What I am trying to avoid is regret. I am trying to avoid waking up in the night and having to go back and try and find some piece of wood that has taken hold in my subconscious and is starting to haunt me.

“An Abstract Coloration of Time Reversal/Hedging on the Title”, 26 1/2″ x 26 1/2″, oil on wood


KI: Currently on display you have six paintings titled “Parables”, where did that title come from?

DH: I’ve had each of the Parable boards with me for over five years and I have painted on them in stages. I wanted the paintings to feel epic with an allure of big narratives, and I linked on to them as “Of the (Heisenberg) Parables on the Myths of Origin.” The Heisenberg part is too many words! Not that I know what I am talking about, but the main point I take from Hiesenberg is that existence depends upon our perception of reality; these paintings are parables on the myths of origin only if you see them as such, otherwise they’re just odd paintings. I do think a lot of art comes from an off base humor, not really funny, just odd.

Part of grouping them together as Parables 1-6 is so that I am not overly defining them for the viewer (titling them individually is too a specific), but I want to acknowledge a connection between the boards. That connection is obvious to me in the shared tones of their coloration. They are of a palette, that to my eye, is reminiscent of a number of the colors in some of Joseph Hammer’s pieces, especially the aged book cover collages that are hanging with them. I like our work together.

DavidHefner_ParableIV_28x29_ow_1000.jpeg“Parable IV”, 28″ x 29″, oil on wood


KI: What was your inspiration behind your corner piece?

DH: The answer is Valdimir Tatlin, Moscow,1915! The name of the show was “The Last Futurist Exhibition of Pictures.” He had a wall sculpture in a corner that physically reaches across the corner space, and I wanted to make a two dimensional version that visually reaches across the corner. Even if it only happens subliminally for an instant that would be the success of this painting and elevate it to a “device” as it would perform a function. The function would be in creating a thought projection for the viewer.

I titled it “ “, “First Word, Phrase, or Sentence of a Viewer”, (my personal choice: “You know what I dreamed last night?/!”

(The end punctuation is suppose to allow the sentence to be either a question or exclamation.) I want the viewer to stand in front of it so that the piece reaches to the edges of their peripheral vision and hopefully they will have a moment where the paint images across the open space and in that moment they remember what they dreamed the night before. I am nothing if not ambitious! Too much info. and here’s more. Kazimir Malevich also wanted a corner in that exhibition for the first showing of his “Black Square” paintings. They are Russians and western anthologies tend not to feature them prominently. Anyway, Tatlin and Malavich have a “physical altercation” over who would get the corner in the exhibition space. History does not record who won the fight, but photos, documentation, show that they both got corners. History is Art History. That was the first punch of the Russian Revolution. If a third corner was available, I think my corner painting/device would have been well received in the 1915 Moscow exhibit; I might just be a 100 years late with it.

DavidHefner_""_144x44_ow_11500.jpg ““ ”,
“First Word, Phrase or Sentence of a Viewer”
(My personal choice: “‘know what I dreamed last night?/!”)”, two panels measuring 44″x72″, oil on wood

KI: I’ve heard you talk about time in relation to your work, how important is this concept to you and for the viewer to think about when looking at your work?

DH: I like to read Theoretical Physics; it’s beyond me, but I love any hint into the absolute friggin’ mystery of how time works. That we spend all this time with our bodies sleeping and our minds wondering around inside our heads, exploring impulses, predilections, linking memories. I think most people, me for sure, so often live in projections of the future, and reconstructions of the past. What I really want in the work is to stop time for the viewer, where they take a moment and connect to something of their own subconscious and enjoy exploring, perhaps finding a feeling, a sense of something recovered, a sensation like déjà vu.


I want to thank David for sitting down with me for this interview.
To see more of David’s work, visit our website: or visit David’s website at:
David’s work is on display in our current show HAMMER/HEFNER at Davis Gallery until September 17th. Be sure to catch it before it’s gone!

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