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4 Things

by Paul Heyer

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Paul Heyer participates in our 4 Things series by sharing four things that influence his art and practice. See his work in the current Chicago Works exhibition, on view through July 1.

Max from Where the Wild Things Are sits atop the head of a monster. Behind them, a giant crescent moon illuminates the scene.

Donde Viven los monstruos, 2009

Photo © Javiera Aguirre

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The Forest at Night

When I was a kid there were a few grim things I’d imagine while riding in my parents’ car. One was a huge knife that cut everything cleanly down to three feet above the earth. Another was a jet landing in my bedroom at night, the nose crashing through my window, spraying me with glass as I catch a glimpse of the pilot’s apologetic face. And then there was the greatest fear of all, waking up alone in the middle of the forest with no clue where I am or how to get home or survive.

I think children are often more in touch with these primal fears, and the forest is one that I often remember. Most of us don't get the chance to wander the woods at night anymore, but when we do, it's a reminder that the borders between us and the rest of the world are more porous than we'd like to think. It's also a setting where the spectrum of possibilities seems to open up—there's a reason Where the Wild Things Are starts at night. It also makes me think about how our society doesn't have a rite of passage anymore, and how, for many cultures, these involved being alone in nature at night. There's something deeply human about having to confront this “great other” that is the world.

The Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze, 2017

Photo © SurFeRGiRL30



My favorite holiday is Halloween and always has been. If I ever get a house of my own, I promise you that it'll be THAT house on the block, over-decorated for Halloween and a little too scary for most trick-or-treaters. When I was growing up, there was a house in Chicago Heights near my cousins' where the owner gave out candy from within a coffin and as soon as the candy landed in the pillowcase the wife would run out the front door with a chainsaw! Part of my love for Halloween is due to the flair for the dramatic, but I also love that it celebrates the notion of transformation. Kids become goblins or astronauts. Yards become grave yards. The terrifying becomes delightful. Even as an adult I love it. Two years ago, my friends and I went to some abandoned grain silos on Halloween night and they were full of young adults just hanging around, soaking in the spookiness.

Floating Island

Photo: Gary Wu

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Fish Tanks

I couldn’t be a serious fish tank enthusiast because I object to how a lot of the fish and corals are harvested from the oceans. But I do follow a lot of aquarium accounts on Instagram and YouTube. There’s something so satisfying to me about the people who build these little worlds full of these living gems and then spend all this time tending to them. It’s like gardening, which I love, but in outer space. Their videos also trigger this inward/outward vision that I love, like zooming the gaze into a little world, then imagining it as a whole world of its own. My favorite tanks are the Zen garden tanks and some of the more elaborate reef tanks. I also love the discus fish, which ARE bred in captivity and are like little living paintings.

A model reproduction of a cityscape at night is intersected by a river which glows with blue light alongside the warm glowing windows of urban buildings.

Fantasyland, Peter Pan’s Flight, 2014

Photo © Mark & Paul Luukkonen

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1960s Disney

Say what you will about the evils of Disney today, what Walt Disney did in the middle of the 20th century was amazing. He transported people into his movies and encouraged adults to reacquaint themselves with childlike wonder. I think the original Disneyland rides—Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, etc.—are masterpieces of art. Our brain processes screen-delivered information differently, so to me, these rides are more interesting than a lot of the newer theme park rides. It’s almost magical how, back in the 1960s, Disney used motion, scale, lighting, and sound to fool us into feeling like we’re flying over London.