The rabbit on this week’s cover by Adeline Heurteau seems perfectly appropriate, but not simply because of the Easter holiday. The artist has had rabbits as pets since she was five years old, including a relatively recent one named Ko Ko. Rabbits are part of Heurteau’s French background. Come to think of it, these animals are also a part of American pop culture: consider Bugs Bunny and Brer Rabbit.
Heurteau’s rabbits are not like American cartoon or literary rabbits, however. Hers are all her own: somewhat surreal with their exaggerated textured skin and large size. There’s even one animal that has a black head and a white body. The cover is mysterious, with the title “The Island.” The rabbit in the foreground evokes our imagination. We wonder what’s happening in the background, what “plot” or story is developing.
The cover image is part of your new rabbit series. Does the series have an overall theme relating to rabbits in particular?
The images show nature in unexpected ways and bring me back to my innocent childhood. Rabbits are everywhere in France. They are popular pets.
Not so much in America. Yet, I do see what you mean by nature being conveyed in “unexpected ways.” There is a fantasy-like and surreal ambience communicated in your paintings. Perhaps that’s how you remember your pets when you were growing up. Tell me about your latest rabbit.
Ko Ko lived in my apartment in New York, but he died four years ago. He thought he was a cat; he had a box in the bathroom like cats, and I never put him in a cage. When friends would come to see me, he would run around them and jump on the sofa. If he didn’t like someone, he would bite them. Ko Ko wasn’t scared of anything, not even big dogs. When he was with a friend’s dog, he would think he was a lion.
How did you get involved with painting in the first place? Did you come from a family of artists?
My father was an architect. When we moved to a place outside Paris when I was five—it was similar to Westchester—my father built our house. I was surrounded by animals, by the way, including rabbits. My grandmother wanted my father to go to art school, but they said his hands were too big to be an artist. Mine are like his. So he became an architect. My sisters are artists, too. One sister makes stained glass; my youngest sister is in fashion.
How about your own training as an artist? Was there someone who particularly influenced you along the way?
I’ve been drawing since I was a little girl. But I first went to a university, which was north of Paris, and studied economics. I was so bored. Then I went to a private school and studied fashion design, but I wanted to paint. I lived in Dubai and took classes in painting there. I finally moved to Manhattan and studied at the New York Academy of Art for two years. John Wellington was my master teacher, and we became really good friends. I painted with him in his studio every day and learned more than I had at a school.
Has travel influenced your work?
I took a road trip across America in November after spending two months in Los Angeles. I drove through 18 states. I especially liked Nashville, New Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Adeline Heurteau’s works are currently on view at Southampton’s Chrysalis Gallery, 2 Main Street, 631-287-1883.
The artist’s website is adelineheurteau.com