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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Heidi Vermeil: The Accidental Artist Lands Her First Big Show

One of Heidi Vermeil's works to be displayed in Lexington.
Artist Heidi Vermeil will have her first big show this March in downtown Lexington at the John G. Irvin Art Gallery associated with Central Bank. This is an interesting turn of events because just  a few years ago she probably would have laughed at the idea. But life takes turns in unexpected ways.

“When I first started to paint I fully expected to throw them all away. It felt good to have a break from the anxiety. It was a healthy way to deal with things.  I wanted to focus on something beautiful because I felt crummy,” she says. And what caused that anxiety?

“I lost a teaching job.  I had envisioned myself teaching for the next 15 - 20 years for my career…. I was mourning the person who I thought I was going to be. I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in my job. And the lack of security with two kids getting ready to go into college. I had no idea what that was going to look like….So when I didn’t have a classroom to pour my creative talents into I just felt so lost. And really I think I ended up using art as a form of meditation because I couldn’t think of anything else.”

But what is perceived as an ending is really just a beginning. Everything is moving forward - even if we don’t believe it. Like when that tree that falls in the forest, something new emerges from it - something new, vibrant, and exciting.  And what emerged was painting. Even though she had no formal training, she discovered that she enjoyed it. And she is good.

She describes herself on her website ( "I’m a feeder. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I’m sure in a past life I was an Italian grandmother saying “Mangia, Mangia!” One of my favorite things to do is to cook and to share a great meal with friends and family. The experience feeds my soul and I hope that it feeds the soul of the people I shared the meal with. My art work is visual food for my soul and anyone who chooses to partake in it with me. In cooking, I get bored cooking the same thing over again and it’s the same with my art work! That’s why my subjects vary from landscapes to equine art.  My soul craves many different textures, colors and subject matters. When a person buys a piece of my work, my deepest wish is that a piece of my art work will be savored and will feed their soul for many years to come."

She posted some paintings on Facebook and received positive feedback. Some pieces sold right away. So she soldiered on, learning with each new piece. But there is one piece that will never let go. She says, “My sunflower painting is a metaphor for me. I was experimenting with a technique of  building light out of darkness by layering colors. I love how the flower keeps it head up and always follows the sun. And that’s why I never wanted to let that one go.” 
Heidi Vermeil with sunflower painting.
Then through a series of happy accidents, Verbarg’s Furniture and Design took 17 pieces which lead to some commissioned pieces. Which lead to a period of intense productivity. Which lead to added confidence when she says that she is an artist. Which lead to the next bold step.

“So I saw this Lexington all call looking for artists. There was one for a bank, the John G. Irvin gallery in a bank.  I thought it was like a bank like here in Fort Thomas so I sent them a link to my website. They responded for me to pick a month and I can be in their gallery.” There was a glitch, though. They asked he to show 30 to 35 pieces. Vermeil chuckles, “There were only 3 pieces in the house.” 

But this gallery is more than a bank. It is a genuine art gallery named after a Lexington art patron. It’s a beautiful space.  “The gallery is wood paneled,” she says. “They print a catalog and will host a reception for four to five hundred people.” And the even better news? The artist gets to keep 100% of the first day sales.

How would Vermeil describe her style or approach? “I like the beauty of a moment and people being in that moment.”  She says that she tries to capture that elusive feeling, emotion, or quality of a moment. She says, "It’s like a tuning fork and I am trying to capture that moment.” She explained the concept of “duende” in art which means “inspiration or passion” but also means to be physically moved by art. And that applies to Vermeil’s works. There is a spirit present.  “I get that with certain images. So I try to create that feeling in my pieces.” 

On finding her style. She says that her “Current paintings are looser. That’s why I like the palette knife so much. The paintings become more dimensional. You can see the brush mark or knife marks. You can see that somebody was here making these marks. Somebody physically created this.” 

Heidi Vermeil is certainly making her mark on the world.  “I always wanted to teach my students to be brave and to take risks and believe in themselves because the world too often tells that you can’t. And if you believe that then you will allow somebody else to dictate your path,” she says.

Reflecting on the loss of her teaching career, she says “I never would have given myself permission to walk away from it.” She was committed to teaching even though she was stressed to the point where she experienced some hair loss. But her life’s path took some unexpected turns and what initially seemed like a career tragedy turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Is she happy? “Oh, yeah!” And you can see that joy in her paintings.


  1. Very nicely written Mr. Keller...YOu captured the essence of the journey and her soul. Ms. Peck

  2. She should get the Kentucky Derby Poster this year!