“The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.” - Simone Weil “The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.” - Simone Weil

Andy Heck Boyd Turns Over A New Leaf

In conversation with Alex Brown


When writing about Kentucky-based artist Andy Heck Boyd, interviewers frequently mention his schizophrenia and reclusiveness as a way into his enigmatic paintings, videos and writing. Diagnosed while studying film at Rockport College in Maine, Boyd left school to create art on his own. In the roughly twenty years since, he has worked obsessively, creating a body of work centered on the idea of the self and its compulsion to use whatever is at hand to communicate.

A daily poster on Twitter since 2009, Boyd claims to have not seen a movie in over a decade, inverting the more mainstream consumption-to-creation ratio most of us live by. The impression one gets is that a tape recorder is always within reach, ready to listen to his unfiltered mind stream. Instagram is no different, with an equally varied output: a still of Scrooge McDuck with unidentifiable audio; a video of Andy in which he lies down and covers himself with a sheet; an image of Rod and Todd Flanders and the words “Apocalypse Now” affixed to a cassette tape.

The lying down video was the same year he made 20 paintings in one night, work that would end up in a solo show at Lucien Smith’s Serving The People. Each painting consists of a cropped cartoon face, painted fast and loose in a minimalist palette, some of the faces smiling dreamily, others shooting accusatory looks. He’s since stopped painting because it’s expensive and takes up too much space. The work Boyd does reminds us that the mind is a jangle of confused thoughts and emotions, and that only secondarily do we impose rational order on that confusion and call it the self. His work is stream-of-consciousness surrealism, made visible in a space of non-judgment through every medium he decides is right in the moment.

I talked to Andy about his recent move (to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky from Exeter, New Hampshire, where he lived the last seven years), his new pastime of doing nothing, and his recent show earlier this year at Tourist in White River Junction, Vermont.

Alex Brown: How was the move? It’s snowing here.

Andy Heck Boyd: Yeah, another snowstorm. It was mostly good. Scary moment driving on a snowy highway in Ohio during the last storm. At night. Just missed being involved in a hundred car pileup. Our car slid over to a spun-out car in the middle of the road and missed it by a foot. Got a hotel right after that. It was cool. Kentucky is different. I like being a transplant. Not knowing much about the area or people. Love hearing everyone talk with an accent. I am practicing my own accent. To be funny.

Brown: Glad you’re OK and didn’t get caught in that pileup. Sounds pretty terrifying. I spent a weekend in Louisville after college and I remember everyone being so friendly. Do you feel like an alien observing a different species? I kind of feel that way whenever I move to a new city.

Boyd: Yeah, me too. It was scary. We were both shaken up. But OK. Yeah, everyone is friendly. In New Hampshire where I lived, I felt a type of tension. Like impatience. Standing in line, for example. I’ve been in New Hampshire forever. But it’s cool and fun. And a bit taking getting used to meeting new people again. Warming up to people. It is neat. It’s so different. Landscape around here, too.

Brown: Did you bring your art with you? Where do you normally store it? You’re so prolific and from reading past interviews I understand you don’t like a lot of clutter in your space.

Boyd: I brought only a handful of things. I don’t have any remaining work in my possession. One reason I don’t paint much anymore, it hangs around until someone wants it. And I am prolific so that if I were to get into it I’d most likely toss the work out in trash to make free space. I have a whole bunch of ideas on keeping less stuff in my home. Maybe someday I’ll make more work and hold onto it. And become a caretaker for these things. It’s tough living in your workplace, I guess. But I’ve sold all the work that remains, or thrown it in the trash. Also I save digital images of all work and videos on dropbox.

Brown: What’s your relationship to subject matter in your art? Is it important to you?

Boyd: I think I pick things to work with, which are icons in a way, or, things I assume many many people are already familiar with. Popular things. And I alter them a little, and then reuse the same subject matter, always returning to the same icons. Over time I have a lot of examples of how I altered them. I abstract from things already well known to people. I don’t necessarily love the icons. Rarely. I just use them as a way to communicate new ideas. Break down built up ideas, sort of.

Brown: Yeah I get the impression from your work that there’s a distance between you and the subject matter. Like maybe you’re only using it peripherally, or treating every subject equally, in a neutral way, like the subject matter were a material like paint or clay?

Boyd: Yea. In other words: Yes. True.

“I LIKE TO NOT HAVE ANY PLANS, NOT THINK OF ANY PLANS WHILE DOING NOTHING. LIKE NOT TO PLAN WHAT TO DO WHILE I’M DOING NOTHING. USUALLY SIT IN A CHAIR, AND USE MY FIVE SENSES.”

Brown: I was looking at your work on Serving The People’s website. What inspired your show “Stand Ins”, nine small paintings, each of a cropped cartoon face, painted fast and loose with a minimalist palette. Did these come after the computer cartoons you made every day for years that gave you tendinitis?

Boyd: The idea was a happy accident. I started with the green face to make actors for movies. Since my wrist is shot, yeah. I realized after the first face I posted, I had something there better than a movie. Perhaps. I did all 20 something [paintings] that night. Leo Fitzpatrick commented, “feet or inches?” He DM’ed me, wanted to meet me and talk about a show. And Lucien Smith contacted me that night and I showed them with him at STP.

Brown: Leo Fitzpatrick thought maybe they were 10 x 8 feet? Those would look great at that scale. Does validation from the art world matter to you?

Boyd: True. It did for a long time, yeah. I wanted validation, and then money to finance my films. But it got tangled and confusing. I don’t expect it or want it to happen anymore, it’s nice if I get shows or sales but not interested any longer, actually it seems stifling to me to get accepted. I was delusional or naive too about it. For a long time. It was a trap, I fell in it. [Laughs]

“ANYONE WHO MAKES ART, IN PRIVATE OR IN PUBLIC, BEST NOT TO LEAVE ANY TRACE OF IT BEHIND BEFORE THEY DIE, SOMEONE CAN FIND IT AT AN ESTATE AUCTION, OR YARD SALE, AND GET THE BALL ROLLING FROM THERE, INTO GALLERIES AND COLLECTORS’ HOMES.”

Brown: You fell into the mental trap of trying to make art that fit a certain idea or expectation?

Boyd: Yeah, trying to make art that I thought looked like art, which seemed based off of what I had already seen by other artists. But also, I felt like in some way I am also unable to prove, or show facts to back up, my theory that the art world felt like a giant netting system, collecting art and artists. Or, I was lured by or attracted to the idea of being a well-known artist, which would help my filmmaking aspirations. It seems I saw other people I admire from history make art and wind up in galleries, be of high value, and thought, “Cool! Me too!” So I’ve met other people who’ve expressed a desire to be known for their art. But deep down, the roots of my ambitions were tangled up, I think. It’s OK, though. Maybe the art world, however one sees that entity, didn’t come up with the fish-net system, collecting art from the world, but maybe they use it regardless. Anyone who makes art, in private or in public, best not to leave any trace of it behind before they die, someone can find it at an estate auction, or yard sale, etc. and get the ball rolling from there, into galleries and collectors’ homes.

Brown: Like so-called outsider artists.

Boyd: Yeah, as one example. I don’t know, I figure I’m uneducated or uninformed vastly on it, but I like my “folk theories.”
Brown: I think the giant netting system is a cool visual. Do you read any institutional critique or look at that kind of art at all?

Boyd: Yeah I like institutional artists critiquing the system, Michael Asher comes to mind first. I read some stuff, dabbled here and there but it gets dry quick.

Brown: It does. I haven’t read much on it but I like Brad Troemel. He makes it funny and also explains it simply enough for me to understand.

Boyd: Yeah!

Brown: What do you think is driving you when you make something? I’m wondering if you have an idea first or is it a feeling of how something should look or sound?

Boyd: Unsure. Deep early roots birthed in childhood days. I have a mix, ideas come and I “sculpt them” in text, photo, drawing, or sound, etc. Usually depends on what direction I’m currently heading in at the time of the idea. Whether I favor the camera I’m obsessed with that week, or into painting, I’m using a specific tool, then I fly, I wing it.

Brown: That’s probably why a lot of your work has a thinking-out-loud quality to it. So an idea of an aging Jim Morrison comes to you, and you draw him standing on a blowup mattress in the kitchen?

Boyd: Yeah, definitely.

Brown: What did you do in Miami? Had you been there before?

Boyd: Nope, never been to Miami, neither of us, and we originally were going to camp in Ocala for ten days; two days and that was enough. So we were like, hmm, what now? I said, Miami? We went, it was tiring to drive around a lot, but enjoyed it. Very nice, will go back someday. It’d be cool to live there, too.

Brown: Were there a lot of people out?

Boyd: Oh yeah, no one was wearing masks - on the beach, swimming, and suntanning, as far as I noticed. People in the streets were wearing masks, though. Miami had a lot of people out and about, and Miami Beach, too. Not crowded, though I suspect the Miami Beach strip can be extremely crowded pre-covid.

Brown: Wondering what your media consumption is like. I know you use IG [where we conducted this interview]. Do you still use Twitter? What about TV?

Boyd: Yeah, I hate TV. Not good. It does all of the thinking for you. Don’t watch movies anymore. Haven’t for a decade. Using the internet seemed to have something to do with that. I use Twitter every day. Since 2009. Mostly I love Twitter, but lately it’s been really overloaded. Turned into Tumblr, it seems. So yesterday I finally turned off images. I like Twitter because it’s quick reading. I follow a lot of people who talk a lot about fashion and celebrities. Silly stuff. I don’t relate. I do watch YouTube. Every day. I basically watch the same live sets of audio or video from Nirvana. Occasionally I’ll search a new artist and see what they look and sound like in interviews. And what things they say about. Think about things, etc. Overall, I’m unhappy I’ve spent a lot of my time over the years and continue to consume internet entertainment stuff. Lately I’ve been allowing myself to not do anything. It’s difficult sometimes. But I like to try and amalgamate with things. I’m outdoors a lot more. I’ve been outside all day today, as I write this. But I like to not have any plans, not think of any plans while doing nothing. Like not to plan what to do while I’m doing nothing. Usually sit in a chair, and use my five senses.

“BUT IT REALLY CAME DOWN TO ME HAVING TO DO THE WORK MYSELF. THAT IS, THINKING ABOUT HOW TO THINK ABOUT THINGS. WITHOUT SOMEONE ELSE’S SUGGESTED IDEA OF HOW I SHOULD FEEL ABOUT THINGS. “RELIGIOUS INSANITY.”

Brown: Twitter is turning into Tumblr because there are more images now? I mainly use it to get takes from the dirtbag left.

Boyd: Images on Twitter is a “booo” for me. Why bother writing when you can post an image/video. But not only images, but the kind of interactions that I saw on Tumblr that were mostly only found on Tumblr. Jokes, points of view on things. And Twitter for the longest time seemed like its own planet. But, with Tumblr ruined, by management decisions or whatever, there seems to be a migration of Tumblrites to Twitter, and wherever else. And just continued to use Tumblr on Twitter. That’s my slacker observational theory. I started using Twitter in 2009. It started out for me writing posts about Itchy and Scratchy. Yeah, a lot of political takes on Twitter. And lots of other quips on anything and everything. I like reading stuff that’s over my head. Beyond my understanding. A few types of accounts I like to follow are theorists and philosophers and writers. I follow a lot of NYC art people, who all seem to know each other. But I like a few accounts that post silly ideas, tweets aka sentences that make me smile, etc. I also noticed I’ve been following some people for a decade now. So we’re a mutant friend type of thing. Never met in person, don’t talk much, but we like each other’s tweets over the years.
Brown: Do you like David Hammons?

Boyd: Yes, I like some of his stuff. My favorite I think is a toss-up between snowballs on a blanket for sale, or his paintings covered in tarps, trash bags, plastic ripped sheets and some old wonky furniture obstructing the view. Pushed up against the canvas. Oh, I also love his video work on UbuWeb where he kicks a bucket at night on a NYC street.

Brown: I read that your dad is a well-known tattoo artist and that you grew up in a religious household.

Boyd: Yeah, my dad opened a shop in the late 1970s. It’s still in business. It was a confusing thing for me growing up to think about, that is, that my dad made a living and supported us kids through tattoo, while going to Mass every week, CCD class, and all the religious events kids grow through. I was always resistant in not wanting to participate in anything religious. But ended up doing it anyway. I turned 18 and stopped going to church. Yeah, I’m not fond of thinking about this aspect of my life. Always makes me angry. (laughs) Also, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia a few years later. And much of my issues revolved around being a person wanting to do things, being free to think how I wish, while the religious teachings suggested I live a life without sin. So I spent the next couple decades in therapy. But it really came down to me having to do the work myself. That is, thinking about how to think about things. Without someone else’s suggested idea of how I should feel about things. “Religious insanity.” The son of mathematician John Nash was schizophrenic like his dad, and I watched an interview a couple years ago where the son called his struggles with religion and schizophrenia, his "religious insanity."” (laughs)

Brown: Yeah, I’m sure it creates so much conflict in your mind. I didn’t grow up religious, but as an adult I started to feel a lot of tension between what I wanted to do versus what I thought I should do.

Boyd: I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia around Christmas 2001. I had just dropped out of two colleges. Spent a year in Boston studying video and TV stuff. Had some breakdowns. So in December I was not well, living with my parents. Staying in all day, not sleeping. Was screaming and crying in parents’ basement 5 AM one morning. Ended up in hospital, stayed in their psych ward for a couple weeks. Diagnosed. Took meds, and ballooned up fat fat. Eventually those meds messed up my thyroid. Taking pills for rest of my life for thyroid. But recently stopped taking schizo meds. Feel fine. It’s been a couple months without schizo meds. I wish I didn’t have to take thyroid meds, too. Be doctor free. But, no alternatives for that. That I know of.