Running an Experiment 


Once upon a time, Heide Trepanier was dissecting cow eyeballs as an instructor at the Science Museum of Virginia. Now she teaches painting and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University, and has her paintings shown in New York, Costa Rica, Madrid, Miami's Art Basel, and someday, maybe even Moscow ("It's just things are kinda tense there right now," she says).

There's not as big a gap between those pursuits as it seems.

Trepanier's work exists at the crossroads of cow eyeballs and Chelsea galleries mainly because her mind similarly brings together the unexpected -- knowledge of natural science and biology, schooling at the Art Institute of Chicago and VCU.

Her paintings — intricate coils of color and strands of detail — look like Dr. Seuss's version of the primordial ooze, and read differently each time. Somewhere in the amoebic frenzy of her last show at Reynolds Gallery, "Gob Wars," she's painted answers to her questions about the seven deadly sins, the melting point of gold — a lot of things that caused Chelsea's Stefan Stux Gallery to pick her up.

Which prompts the question, Why hasn't she taken her amoebas to New York?

"If you're living there you just wouldn't get to experience everything. You'd be working all the time," she says. "It's really not artist-friendly anymore. It's really a jungle for artists now, because it's so expensive."

It means more that she says this by phone from a beach in Hawaii, her first vacation in eight years. But she's happy Richmond is her home. "The great thing about Richmond is that it's still trying to define itself," she says. For artists, she says, "Those people have the freedom to kind of invent it, still."

Trepanier has been helping those inventors through VCU and as a volunteer at Art 180, where she lends her talents to neighborhood kids. She also promotes local artists through a blog, Ink Tank.

She was one of the folks responsible for the popular Orange Door Gallery on Broad Street a few years back, where artists could paint walls, drill holes in the floor, drink beer and hang out. In other words, build a community.

Now she's taking a break from the pressure of shows to play with her art again, to get back to her amoebic level, so to speak. "I understand the relationship between things better," she says — "things on a microscopic level."

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