40 Heather Horton

"Half the things I paint are just answering the question, can I paint it up to my expectation?"

"Every painting at its core is an hommage...."

"I will always be more interested in what cannot be seen that what can, in the questions more than answers."

"A painting—the landscape’s countenance, the fluidity of joints held in air or water, the ache of emotion deeply felt, all of that energy...is but a brief forever."

Heather Horton is a remarkable painter from Hamilton, Ontario, in Canada. She is a master of composition and color. With her signature brush strokes and modelling of form she creates hauntingly beautiful imagery of her world. Her work is in the permanent collection of the government of Ontario. She was also featured on Bravo! Canada's show The Artist's Life. One of her most ambitious projects was to collaborate with Chris McCandless's family in the making of a biography of his life, titled Back in the Wild, in which Heather painted several art works.

'Self Portrait, Inside'

Heather was born in Burlington, Ontario. She first studied English lit., earning her BA at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She then switched to Sheridan College where she got a diploma in Illustration. She began exhibiting her art in 2004, and has been painting full time ever since. From 2013-15 she lived in Whitehorse, in the Yukon. She moved back to Ontario to help care for her ailing mother.

In this podcast with Bridge the Atlantic (2015), she talks about how she came to the Yukon:

"So, what happened was I came up in 2008. Somebody bought a painting in Toronto, at my first solo exhibition, which was a really crazy experience. I can tell you about, if you want. And this gentleman, bought a painting, and we became friends on email. Then, through corresponding, he travels a lot, and he said, 'Look, why don't you come up here and house sit for me. You get the benefit of exploring this place. You like the north, anyway, you've been to Alaska, etc.. Why don't you come up?' I did. I fell in love with it. I'm like, this is like, I could move here tomorrow, and it is within my country and it's 5500km away. That blows my mind. I'll do it. And so, it took those years to plan it, because my parents were both handicapped at that time, and my dad just passed away this past summer, and all this stuff has happened, but I thought you know what? You only have one life to live, as far as we know. I'm going to do this. And it was a true Odyssey, like, I just came up with my car, and my cat in the car, and my worldly things. And I thought, I'm as proud of that as any painting, to do that on my own."

Describing the Yukon, Heather says, "It's above 60° latitude. So it's about, pardon the pun, but polar opposite [of Burlington]. Like, it's crazy, quiet, beautiful. Everything is an extreme up here. Beauty, isolation, wilderness, I could walk in ten minutes in any direction, more or less, and be in the middle of nowhere. So, it's pretty. I think my gallery wasn't - they were like, 'Please don't go!' But, I've been shipping them paintings in Toronto, so it's worked out. I've loved it, it's been amazing. And the art community is massively welcoming and warm."

'Self Portrait: Acute'

Heather talks about her artwork in this interview with Daniela Rutigliano for Abozzo Gallery in Toronto (2012):

"I paint myself. I paint friends, family. I never really have a plan, I have more of an idea of what I want to do, and then I think, well, do I know anyone that's free for a shoot? If I don't I tend to paint myself. I come to why I paint what I paint and who I paint what I paint through different reasons. Some paintings, their genesis is immediately autobiographical - I want to paint myself in said place. Then, often times, friend's and their environment really inspire me. A lot of the Gayle paintings are examples of that. And so their space is just as inspiring as any other place, and I just have to paint it and so I have to paint them, it's itching in that place. And then other times I just randomly find people and ask them if I can paint them. This doesn't happen as often, but it does happen, where just a person's look, and I just think 'what the heck, I'm gonna ask if I can paint them.' I've never had anyone say no, and I give them my card so they know I'm not a wacko. It's worked out well so far."

Heather talks about her process (Bridge the Atlantic, 2015), "I work from photographs, so I never work from life. I haven't worked from life since college, because they made us do that, and it's great to have that foundation working from life. But, as soon as I graduated from college I thought, 'I'm done. Models get tired, people are busy.' So, it's become a photo shoot. And then I work from numerous photos for one painting, like, if it's a full figure I'll have close-ups of the hands, here [points to her face]. I can't just use one image. It's not going to give me enough information. So, I can work with up to twelve images for one painting, to shuffle as I'm working to see the area of the painting that I'm working on."


Heather says in this article by Katie Hosmer (My Modern Met, 2013):

“There is a prevailing sense of isolation and alienation in my paintings. I want the viewer to wonder what is beyond the borders of the canvas. I like to paint natural people/objects in natural surroundings…environments that are special to them, with minimal posing and no pretense.”

'David's Studio at Sunset'

From her Instagram, "Few colour juxtapositions thrill me as much as red and blue. They are old and new blood; they are wood, water and rock all touched with their shifting, resting moods."

Heather says (Rutigliano, 2012):

"I always notice people's hands, because they're just so much fun to paint, hands and feet. Most people shy away from painting hands and feet, but I really like it because they're so expressive and they're the way we interact most immediately with the world a lot."

'Reflection, David's Studio'

From her Instagram:

"Some things I love: I love what we become in the lens of the impartial platform. I love omniscient angles. I love infusing blood into the oft startling coolness of metal. I love sun though an ear. I love to think about all the paintings I don’t even know about yet but will create as time goes on. I love music drifting through a loved home. I love buttery paint on my palette. I love that what makes us artists cannot ever be taken from us. And I love that artists must always heed the call of import...."

'Mia Millennium Trail'

From her Instagram, "The blue shadow in this painting is one of my favourite things I’ve ever painted."

Heather mentions three things everyone should know about her (after being asked on Bridge the Atlantic, 2015):

"I have followed my dreams, right from the beginning. So, I'm proud of that. So, I think that guests should know it's possible to accomplish whatever you set your mind to do. It just takes awhile in certain situations. So that's one thing, I'm very proud of that. And then something else, let's see.. I'm from Ontario, where you're from, Marcio. And, finally, I don't actually have a bachelor of fine arts. I don't actually have a fancy degree. I actually have a diploma in illustration from Sheridan College. But, I decided to become a painter, a fine artist from there. So, it's interesting to put that on your CV. If people are looking for a BFA, you don't need that kind of credential, if you really believe in what you're doing. Those are three things."

'Bus 142'

This was the bus where teen hitchhiker Chris McCandless lived and died in 1992, a story immortalized in the film Into the Wild. Heather talks about Chris in this short interview with Ned Rozell (2011):

"I approached Walt and Billy a couple years ago about doing some paintings about Chris. And, so they gave me access to look at his photographs [in Virginia], and I based some paintings on them. . . . I first came out to the bus here in '08 with Ed. We hiked out.We used pack rafts. . . . I think he had the courage to do what a lot of us want to do, and don't. And, I don't mean leaving, and not saying goodbye. I mean testing yourself, truly. Really getting up and living life to the fullest. . . I'm a bit of a cerebral person, I guess, too in a sense that I love Thoreau's philosophy of less is more, of living simply. . . . I really respect Chris's ideology and that he followed through on his ideas."

Heather and Chris's family worked on a biography, Back to the Wild, which she talks about (Bridge to Atlantic, 2015):

"This book was the culmination of three years work with Christopher McCandless's parents and others. So, he was the subject of Into the Wild by John Krakauer. And so, I became friends with his folks, and I went down to Virginia to look at some of Christopher's photos that he'd taken on his two year odyssey. And I said to them, 'We have to do something with these photographs. We have to.' And so, we created this book which has all his correspondence and photographs, and everything. And I did some paintings based on his photography of his two year odyssey. And so, this book was a lot of work in the making, and I did a group of paintings from it. And  now this weekend I'm going down to New York City. PBS is doing a documentary on Chris, and so they want to include my paintings in the documentary. I have a painting that I've started, that they're like 'Can we videotape you painting something'. So it's exciting to know I'll technically be painting in NYC this weekend."

'Wyll Wisdom'

Heather says (Bridge the Atlantic, 2015), "The best commission I ever had was from a client and hi wifw who said, 'Hey, we have a house in the south of France. Here's our budget. Do you wanna come to the south of France and take some reference, and develop some paintings for our house there? We'll fly you.' And I'm like, is this for real? So, it was incredible."

'Bloor West Cafe'

Heather says to students who want to be artists (Bridge the Atlantic, 2015), "I know this is going to souncliché, but just do it. Keep doing it, constantly. Do it when you don't want to do it, up to the point where you know you'll be producing bad work. So, I firmly believe what separates a professional from a hobbyist is just doing it when you don't wanna do it. I mean, part of you always loves doing it because it's what you're meant to do on this planet, with this life that you've been given, right? But, it's getting up and being disciplined. You gotta be disciplined. If you want results in anything, be it at the studio or at the gym, or anything. Be consistent, be disciplined, promote yourself. Be resourceful. Be an entrepreneur for yourself. Having connections - capitalize on them, but don't be too much of an opportunist. But connections are massive!"

'I Will Not Jettison My Dreams', 2013

Heather says (Bridge the Atlantic, 2015), "My number one influence is Lucien Freud, who passed away, I guess, a couple years ago, unfortunately. But, he was at the time the world's greatest living painter. He had his own set of keys to the Tate, for crying out loud. Like, he's just amazing, and so he's the reason that I paint the way that I do, really. His technique, nobody has ever painted flesh the way, I think, that he did. Andrew Wyeth, American painter, stark landscapes, beautiful, beautiful compositions. Those two are my two main ones. Frida Kahlo just because of the way that she lived her life. I kind of don't really keep track of a lot of contemporary artists. Jenny Saville, British painter, amazing. Jeffrey Hein, amazing portrait artist, American. But I kind of keep my head down and keep my head out of what's going on. I know a lot of my friends who are collectors know way more about what's happening on the art scene than I do."

Heather's Blog
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'Figure Perched'

'Quilted Figure'

'Ghost in the Sun'

'Amelia & Avalyn'

'The Blue Dress'


'The Companion'

From her Instagram, "I hadn’t planned on Laura’s cat Aslan wandering over during the set-up for this painting. But when he sat down I realized he was integral to it’s narrative..."

'Gayle with Sheet'

'The Two Gayles'

From her Instagram, "Another painting from the “doppelgänger” group. I love the idea of different realities existing in close proximity simultaneously. Maybe it’s The Shadow. Maybe it’s our light. Or maybe it’s just the mind, traveling."

'Gayle, Window'

'Gayle, Stool'

'Gayle Waiting'

'The Searcher'

'Winter at the Raspberry House'

'Hatshepsut', 2015

'The Revenant', 2015

'The Homesteader'

From Heather's Instagram, "A single, special house can provide a lifetime of paintings. This painting is from one such house of a friend’s in Ontario. These houses, should you find one, contain spaces asking to be remembered, dark corners that push the light quietly away, empty walls waiting to be filled with the marks of our brushes."

'Gayle Holly's Room'

'Spare Room'

From her Instagram, “The dark has a light of its own. In the dark all sorts of things come alive.”~The Bad and The Beautiful

'Back Stairs'

From her Instagram, "There are more colourful treasures and mysteries dancing in shadows than the sun will ever find"

'Jeanine, Black Street'

'Gayle Uncertain'

From her Instagram:

"I found myself wondering today what sort of art will come from artists/musicians/writers/all of us during this time...trying to stay positive and looking at it as optimistically as possible. There is a Thoreauean feel to each day now... Appreciate the often overlooked delicacies of leaves and birdsong. Call friends, family and loved ones regularly, especially those in isolation alone. No hurrying. Appreciating the space between things that we usually rush past. It’s an interesting fulcrum and here’s an appropriate painting for the current state..."

'Laura, Curtain'


From her Instagram: "One of the first bathtub paintings I completed many moons ago. I am drawn to paint what comforts as much as what inspires."

'Within These Walls', 2020

'Woman in Shower'

'Aquatic Portrait'

'The Changeling'

'What I See Everyday'

From her Instagram, "Another painting of an ordinary moment that In fact has great meaning, and even more so as time passes."


'Hallway & Chair'

From her Instagram, "From the archives...on a beloved street long, long ago...my mother used to attend day programs twice a week. A special van would pick her up and bring her back at the end of the day.. She could still walk at that time, albeit slowly and with a cane, but she did...this is a sight I saw often while caring for her..."

'Fishing Stage, Fogo Island'

'Shadow Portrait'

From her Instagram, "We learn much in the shadows and from them. To the painter, they are the dark side of the subject’s moon. For a thing to exist you need to see what is leaves behind."

'George Hill'

'Bonnie Gros Morne'

'Grandmother with Knives'


From her Instagram, "Kat and I became friends when I was unwell years ago. I will never forget her support during that dark time."

'Jade Waiting'


'Laura, Cusp'

'Emily Tahini North', 2013

'The Berry Picker, at Greenspond'

'Erin Choices'

'Figure with Shawl'

From her Instagram, "Every painting is an ode to something. Skin, texture, lament, joy, rain...all creative acts bends their knee to something beyond..."

'Laura on a Stool'

'Carly Resting'


From her Instagram, "From the archives...my friend Conrad asked if he could play a song before I took reference images for this painting, so that “the energy from the music would still be in the air.” I like that logic."

'Dr. Paul Kurtz'


'Father in Hospital'

From her Instagram, "The night before a major operation I asked my father, in a time of great uncertainty and fear about the procedure, if I could take a photo of him to paint. He said yes without hesitating. I will never forget his vulnerability and trust in me in that moment"

'Mother, Duvet'

From her Instagram, "I’m a day late for this Mother’s Day post but I had to share this painting I did of her awhile back. Post-stroke, I would check on her each morning, this was the view I would see."


From her Instagram, "I love studies of the seemingly mundane...everything has a purpose, and paintings such as this help me realize how vital that which we might quickly walk past really is, especially in these crazy times..."

'Red Toque'

'Uzes Street'

'Gayle Snowshoeing'

"Winter is the drapery of landscape painting...leafless bows are arms and snow is rumpled sheets..."

'Mayberry Street, Hidden', 2013

'Danielle Rising'

"I have found that painting water is the only way to hold onto it. "

Heather quotes Margaret Atwood, in this post on Instagram:

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”

'Danielle Treading', 2015

'Danielle Falling', 2017

'The Mermaid'

'The Chimera'

'The Selkie'



From her Instagram, "The only swimming painting I have done in which the reference was taken in an indoor pool. This was painted when I lived in Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory...where outdoor swimming is rare due to cold temperatures...so I adapted!"

'From Pangea'

'Hanna Surfacing'

'Hannah Osmosis'


'Portrait of an Artist as a Young Girl'

'Medicine Cabinet'

From her Instagram, "When I posted this painting earlier today I thought it had been lost...thankfully my dear friend @jessicavellenga reminded me that she has it! It’s a moment of a chapter from long ago...sometimes grace can be found in the mundane, in the workaday, and I love to paint what expects not to be painted...this was the medicine cabinet of my parents’ before my dad passed a few years ago."

'Basement Tableau', 2018

'Pieces of My Father'

From her Instagram, "My second favourite portrait of my father. We had an extremely complicated relationship to say the least. He lost a leg to illness and I remember asking if I could paint his prosthetic leg....it was a way to love him by proxy. It was a way to feel a safe connection to him. One step removed. Needless to say he didn’t hesitate to let me paint this new, necessary part of him. I’ll never forget his willingness to reveal the cracks in the armour, to let me paint his humanity."

The title is 'Sasha', but I'd call it 'Cat Meets Barnett Newman'