Painting with Dirt

Apr 3, 2014

Mike Heivly

Most painters work in water color, oil or acrylic, but one Virginia man is making his mark by painting with dirt.

Mike Heivly’s Dad was in the military, so his family moved around a lot, and in each new place, he noticed the dirt was different.  In some spots it was black – in others, red, and during one cross country trip, he decided to demonstrate its diversity.

“Every place that we stopped I got a little soil sample – evidence that I was there.  And then I did a series of paintings/prints  to document a movement across the continent.”

Then, he tried grinding or sifting the soil and mixing it with paint.  He figured his abstract squares of color on canvas were authentic art.

“I mean most landscape work is a picture of a landscape.  This IS the landscape.”

He took to combining earth from different places in surprising ways.  One painting, for example, features dirt from Disneyland and the White House.   In was 1979, and security wasn’t as tight as it is today, but even then, he knew getting a handful of presidential soil could be difficult, so he got a friend to do the driving.  They picked up a sample at the IRS, and another from the Justice Department before approaching the White House gate.

“I kind of walked up, and nonchalantly bent over to pick something up and grabbed a handful, and ran  and jumped back into the Volkswagen, and off we went with some guy waving at us.  I don’t know what he wanted, but we kept going.”

Heivly knows his work is not for everyone, and he admits he doesn’t sell much, but the quality of the work is probably not to blame.

“I could never do the marketing for God sakes.  If there’s anybody out there that wants to – I’ve got a lot of inventory.”

And before moving to Virginia, his talents were great enough to win him a place on the art  faculty of California State.

Mike Heivly’s work will be featured this week as part of First Fridays at our Charlottesville studio.