EK Interview: Joe Hengst


Dive into the world of Joe Hengst, a colorful realm of fantasy. Inspired by nature and imagination, his work is a trip and then some. I wish I could stare at them in person. Check out his interview:

Introduce yourself.
My name is Joe Hengst, 24 years old. I am from Cleveland, Ohio, and currently reside in Northern California. I attended Columbus College of Art & Design and received my BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2013.


Your work is colorful and fantastic, what movies, books, or other media have you consumed that informs you? How do you expand your mind? How do you keep your work inspired and novel?
I read a lot as a kid, the Redwall series, Lord of the Rings, anything fantasy or related to magic. I played a lot of video games and watched a lot of cartoons as well. Most of these media inspired me and led me to create my own stories and images.

Growing up I loved spending time with myself and my imagination. Today, when I’m alone, that’s when my imagination can run wild, uninterrupted. I can listen and try to decipher what it means. If I didn’t allow myself time for the freedom of childlike fascination and open-mindedness I’m afraid I would lose the ability to imagine. In the studio I try not to have visual sources around me that inspire me while I’m painting. This helps me keep closer to my own vision and allows my subconscious to filter any outside stimuli that’s perceived.


You’ve stated that we have begun to rely on our fabricated society and starving our beings of our connection to the natural world. What is your connection with nature? Do you backpack? Do you hike? Do you get lost in nature? Are you actively working to maintain or restore your connection with nature?
Yes, I do try to stay connected to nature through all of those choices. I hike, run, and meditate. I am trying to make more time to do some backpacking trips. I do love getting lost in nature metaphorically speaking, and I have actually gotten lost while hiking which was pretty scary. There is a connectedness I get out of these activities which helps me restore my sanity. I have lived in a city for the past 6 years and noticed a lot of changes to my psyche. I turned to meditation which strengthens the bond between myself and people. It also helps me envision new ideas.


How do you see your work as a commentary on the connection between humanity and nature that is being eroded? How do you think we could restore that link? Do you think that commentary is clear to viewers?
Our relationship with nature is more symbiotic than people believe. There is a noticeable separation between humanity and nature due to new technological advances. Not all technological discoveries have a negative impact obviously but it’s easier to see the negative repercussions they have on people in everyday situations. We could definitely restore the link we have with the natural world by not intervening in the natural order of things. We have to use the tools at our disposal that have more positive outcomes for both man and nature.


My work shows that there are many unknown things that just need to be accepted as such. If more people can accept the unknown, then maybe humanity can give up old, false beliefs more easily. I connect people to worlds that relate to ours but are noticeably different and unrelated as well. My paintings are a representation of the mysterious link between humans and nature. I try to keep objects and environments in my paintings closer to a relatable aesthetic, than a representational or realistic one.

We are a young species in the context of the earth, only about 200,000 years if you’re considering when the genetic lineage of what we consider modern human appeared. In that time we have discovered music, art, and science, do you think we can learn how to reestablish a harmonious link with nature as well? Do you think any of these discoveries inherently interfere with humanity’s ability to maintain a connection with nature? Or is that a manifestation of how we implement and use our discoveries and our cultural relationship to them?
Yes I believe we can reestablish a harmonious link with nature through humanity as a whole. I believe anthropology and archaeology can help with that because there are so many unanswered questions about where we come from and how we got to where we are today. Human discoveries do interfere with our connection with nature but I do not believe inherently so. There is a self control and an abstention that comes with the power of invention and discovery. There are both positive and negative effects, as well, it just depends upon the intentions and reasoning behind the implementations of them. I think we have forgotten more than we know. There are a lot of inventions out there today that can be re-purposed and reconstructed that could have enormous positive results.


What did your grandfather say and how did it inspire you to make the eponymous piece? Your work has a lot going on in it, how do you keep track of all the pieces and how do you plan for where they will go and what color palette they will have?
What My Grandfather Said is not about what he said to me but about what he didn’t say to me. I was 7 years old when he died an alcohol related death. I remember the funeral vividly, it was the only time I saw my father cry. I remember looking at my Grandfather in the casket and thinking about all the things that we could have said to each other. I still think about that memory a lot today. I want to experience all the things that he would have wished for me to experience.


My memory isn’t really that great but when it comes to remembering what each piece is about, that’s pretty easy, because they mean so much to me. Every piece has secrets behind it. When it comes to the color palette of each piece, that is usually decided at the very beginning. The colors are usually decided based upon how I feel and color theory. I don’t usually plan for what the paintings will look like but sometimes I do sketch out my ideas. The more I paint the more of an idea I will have of where they will end up.


(A)part of this world and Virtual Reaction are more distorted than your other pieces, the content is similar to your other work, but the canvases look warped, or stretched. What are these two pieces different? Where you in a different head space than you normally are when you painted these?
That’s funny you noticed that. I was recently talking to someone about those two and I think they are different because I did not feel so rushed when I was making them. For some reason I feel like it takes me a ridiculously long time to finish a piece and when there’s no deadline I can have more time to think and make different decisions. I do look forward to making more pieces that relate to those two in the future.


What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on some larger pieces. I intend to carry onward with the ideas I have. The painting process is headed in a new and exciting direction for me. The more I paint, the more new techniques and tricks I learn. It keeps me on my toes.


Where is your favorite place to escape to?
My favorite places to escape to are my imagination, books, and any National Park. I wish I had more time to read and hike but painting has taken a hold of me.