Artist Profile: Heidi Woodhead

Heidi Woodhead gives us the life and death of a tulip. But first, she suspends us in a dream-like domain. Nabila Chemaissem writes.

In the glow of morning’s first light, with the world rubbing sleep from its eyes and the earthy waft of coffee permeating her studio, Heidi Woodhead picks up her brush. With oils upon linen or canvas, she creates romantic depictions of tulips that, with their wilted petals, tell poignant tales of where they have been, where they are now and the inevitable decay for which they are destined. In this way, the weaving of time and beauty is given voice, though it is bridled, because in the end her art presents as a form of time-stop. The tulips she paints are beautiful, but it is the stilled, frozen moment they are captured in that is most striking.

“As a small child, I would pore over my great grandfather’s art books,” says the Hobart-based artist, “and try to recreate pictures I found there, painting and drawing frequently to try and best capture my surroundings.” For Woodhead, it is impossible to remember a time without art. Her recreation of the works kept by her great grandfather’s exists in parallel harmony with her artistic preservation of her natural world. 

Aura of Mystique presents multi-hued tulips upon ornate china, their vibrant salience a momentary distraction from the singular straightness of the freshly clipped stem hanging off the edge of the plate. How long will they last, we wonder? What more exists beyond the edges of the painting? When will time take them, as it inevitably will, into the darkness of the background that surrounds them?

“I like that a painting can have hidden meaning and tell a story with objects and colour,” says Woodhead. Swoon, with its single, flame-hued tulip curving in the wind against a greyed sky, presents like a lighthouse against the gloom. It holds strong, straight against forces that seek to bend its stem.

Hers is art that, with the softness of the light curving along the edges of the blooms, speaks to the inevitable: that these flowers, in all their beauty, will one day decay. And yet, we are afforded the opportunity to gaze upon them forever, preserved as they are in still-life. In this way, Woodhead treads the line between the ultimate dichotomy: that of life and death. “I strive,” she says, “to capture that beauty before it decays and to find the glimmer of light in the dark.”

Woodhead’s art gives the gift of a moment. The one she affords us is the longest moment of all, one that is indulgent and leaves room for ponderance. To view her art is to slow down, to almost hold our breaths lest the continued motion of time causes the tulips to wilt further into the painting and altogether disappear.

Represented by Handmark Gallery, Hobart, Heidi Woodhead is presenting a solo exhibition of her work Tulip Fever in September 2023.

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