Tessa Heck’s Unseen Landscapes

The Kalispell born and raised artist has been running a downtown gallery for almost a year, while continuing to create the vibrant, but familiar landscape paintings that have captured her artistic interest

By Mike Kordenbrock
Artist Tessa Heck works on a painting in her studio in downtown Kalispell. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

With her face blanketed in thick, pink hair, opaque and flowing down and across her shoulders like a shawl, the woman on the wall of Tessa Heck’s studio fixes a perpetual six-eyed stare at the workspace spread out before her. Arranged in descending, slightly overlapping pairs, the eyes — though streaked through with white, and faded like weathered graffiti — seem almost like the patterns that develop on the coat or body of animals to serve as a warning. 

Across the six-eyed woman’s lap and in her arms is a female bull terrier. Its long face is white, and blank except for the black tip of its nose, and two neon orange specks for eyes that glow like embers. Spread out before the terrier and the woman, are four puppies. Their limbs are stretched out and their eyes are closed. They are at rest. The woman, and the dog who gave birth to them, are not. 

The painting is just one of the many ways Heck, a Kalispell-born-and-raised artist, takes familiar subjects, and through the use of color and pattern, recreates them into works of art that can appear as snapshots from an alternate dimension. Good Luck Gallery, which Heck opened last year, is located off Main Street in downtown Kalispell, in a space that most recently served as Marshall Noice’s Montana Modern Fine Art Gallery. The original aluminum ceiling patterns serve as a reminder of the building’s past, which Heck said includes stints as a saloon and as a café. And when she thinks of the gallery’s future, Heck said it’s with excitement.

As for the near present, Heck said for a couple of years she’s been applying her aesthetic to landscapes, transmuting them from familiar shades of green, brown and blue, into neon and pastel visions intended to evoke feelings of joy. 

In one painting of Chief Mountain, Heck has recreated the distinct brick massif with pale blue that is striped with uneven, sometimes angular, swathes of pink from peak to base. The landscape unfolding below is a paler shade of pink, and an off-yellow. Each segment of the foreground is broken up with small and large shapes in shades of blue and green. 

A wall of work by artist Tessa Heck in her studio at Good Luck Gallery in downtown Kalispell on March 5, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In another painting, Heck depicts the remnants of Glacier National Park’s namesake glaciers as white shapes with dark blue bases, floating in a field of subtly brighter blue. The glaciers look almost like clouds, or floating planets, until the eye can process the slight deviations in color which unlock the painting’s context.

Working on her landscape paintings in the depths of the gray winter that is a feature of the Flathead can be meditative, according to Heck, and a nice reminder of what’s to come.

“I really like doing the summer landscapes in the winter, because they make me think about how winter isn’t forever. It can be such a dark time,” she said.

 Her landscape paintings usually rely on reference photos taken while out on hikes with her husband and daughter, which she then converts into small sketches filled in with prospective color combinations, some of which are abandoned as she follows her artistic intuition while composing the final piece. She typically uses vinyl Flashe paints on canvas, and sometimes uses cutting techniques on the paint to carve out distinct, sharp lines and shapes. In her view, artists, through their work, are creating a kind of language, but that language doesn’t necessarily have to follow any rules. 

“Most of the time I don’t think about how strange it is to be able to translate something into an artwork, because that’s just something that I’ve always done,” Heck said. 

As Heck explained recently, she’s still trying to find the right balance, or as she called it, recipe, for being an artist, and a mother, and since 2023, the owner of an art gallery. To be able to track all three parts of her life, it might be useful to have six eyes, but Heck herself only has two. She does, however, have a bull terrier named Dot. 

A small dog with a big personality, and some thyroid problems that give her a linebacker’s physique, Dot has free range of Heck’s studio, owing in part to her willingness to use the sloped, bony snout flowing from the top of her skull to the tip of her nose with seemingly no interruption as a battering ram to open doors. 

Painting by artist Tessa Heck in the Good Luck Gallery in downtown Kalispell on March 5, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Dot is a source of great affection for Heck, who has even adopted a minimalist sketch of her as a logo. Heck’s 5-year-old daughter Margot loves Dot too, and in the aforementioned painting that hangs on the wall, Margo was actually the artist behind the puppies spread out across the lower third of the canvas. 

There’s an intensity about that particular painting, but a playfulness too, especially when the artist behind the puppies is revealed. Elsewhere lying on a table is a rough drawing of an elephant, in a dress, wearing a crown. The dress has been haphazardly colored in with different shapes and colors. Heck helped her daughter with the outline, and let her go to town on the rest, including the colors on the dress. It seems to tie into a piece of advice that Heck still comes back to. 

“A mentor in grad school would tell me ‘Good art doesn’t have to kill you.’”

This spring, Heck’s Good Luck Gallery in downtown Kalispell, reached its one-year anniversary and opened up its next show, called BLOOM. Featuring the work of seven different women artists, many of whom are emerging artists with some sort of connection with the state of Montana, BLOOM opened on April 5 with a party at the gallery. Featured artists include Sydney Boveng, Daphne Sweet, Carolyn Hopkins, Shelby Baldridge, Tessa Heck, K. Fry and Kris Vardanega.

Globs on of paint on a tray in Tessa Heck’s studio at Good Luck Gallery in downtown Kalispell on March 5, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon