Art Market Report: How To Make it in the Art World—HEES

By Anna Mikaela Ekstrand Anna Mikaela Ekstrand has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on November 21, 2022
HEES portrait
HEES photographed by Esteban Bonillax and hair by Greg Hernandez. Courtesy of the artist.

“I have only been painting for three years and I am humbled and grateful to be exhibiting my work in a museum,” the LA-based artist HEES said, rather baffled, during a panel conversation in conjunction with the opening of the group show “Pop to Now: Andy Warhol and His Legacy” at Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. It is in fact, baffling—equal parts luck and hard work it is a gamble to make it in the art world. You need both to make it, but luck is not always easy to come by. 

HEES solo exhibition at Aktion Art Palm Beach
Installation Shot. “EVOLVE” at Aktion Art. Photographs courtesy of Aktion Art.

Concurrently with the show at Bechtler, “EVOLVE” marks Los Angeles-based artist HEES’s first solo show with Aktion Art and Wynn Fine Art. The exhibition presents an evolution of HEES’s work over the last three years, starting from the first sketch of the HEES mark in his journal to the multimedia digital canvas “See Me Fly.” The show will highlight other new works including “Think Different,” ”You,” ”White Train,” and “I’ll Be The Light.”

Embracing interdisciplinary modalities and new media, HEES pushed the boundaries of painting with “See Me Fly” as he has embedded four NFTs displayed on a 55” LED screen within the physical work. Bursting with color and emotion, “EVOLVE” is a celebration of progress, creativity, and humanity. 

As the art market continues to make headlines in the news. Most recently, The New York Times, Fox News, CNBC, covered the story of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection that fetched a staggered $1,6bn at the auction house Christie’s. Works by David Hockney, Jean Michel Basquiat, and of course, the infamous Da Vinci that became the world’s most expensive artwork when it sold for $450M five years ago also make headlines in mainstream media. These numbers, however thrilling, are also misleading. Although the contemporary market, loosely defined by living artists, has gained $2 billion over the past twenty years, the average price of contemporary artwork is $25,040. If you are an artist represented by a gallery you will only keep 50% and some artists might not sell many works per year, if any. For artists, it is not a get-rich-fast scheme, but there is potential. 

With the mainstream attention and overall growth of the art market, many new players are looking to get in—online sales platforms and new art galleries continue to launch while artists receive less financial support from their galleries. 

Nick Hissom and Kameron Ramirez, co-founders of Aktion Art, at their 11.11 Start of the Season party featuring work by HEES co-hosted by Jane Holzer in Palm Beach. Photographed by Mireya Acierto.

Nick Hissom, stepson of the Vegas hotel mogul Steve Wynn, knows a thing or two about gambling, or more specifically, the art market. As the director of the Wynn Family Collection, he works directly with the blue-chip (highest level of) art that is held in his family’s collection. Hissom, however, together with his partner Kameron Ramirez, has a grander vision to also support living emerging artists. They founded the art gallery Aktion Art which currently represents four artists. Three out of the four are ‘self-taught’ or, rather, schooled in other creative industries. Aktion Art presents their contemporary artists alongside million-dollar blue-chip artwork, which brings viewers back to the importance of seeing the creative expression of the work itself, rather than the price point. They also throw splashy parties allowing guests to enjoy work in a glamorous more welcoming setting than that of the stark white walls of most galleries. 

Jean Michel Basquiat did not see any of the millions that his work is selling for now. He may have been a rising star but he was very much a struggling artist. Back then, in the 1980’s there were fewer art schools, and fewer artists, in short the competition was not as hard. The art world was less professionalized and there was less transparency. With films like “The Art of Making It,” a documentary about the art market and artists (many disgruntled) navigating it, the smoke and mirrors of the art world are dismantled to show as Annabel Keenan writes, an “eco-system failing artists.” However, as Dan Schindle critiqued, the film does not come up with any good solutions.  

HEES. “THINK DIFFERENT.” 2021-22. Acrylic and paintstick on raw canva. 84×78 in. Photograph courtesy of Aktion Art.
Kameron Ramirez, HEES, and Nick Hissom
Kameron Ramirez, HEES, and Nick Hissom. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

HEES sees a simple solution for artists

A simple solution is that artists need more financial support. HEES was the first artist Aktion Art started to represent. The artist was a friend and had photographed Ramirez, a former model, some years ago. HEES had worked as a photographer, producer, and make-up artist in the fashion and entertainment industry for over thirty years. When he was diagnosed with cancer he found himself without a job. The works in the solo show “EVOLVE” present the artist’s personal journey of healing but also a call for humanity to continue growing. Having worked in entertainment HEES, like many others, has been treated with unprofessionalism and disrespect and suffered financial and other abuse in the workplace. His paintings that profess humanity and growth are a product of self-development but also a call for creative industries to do better. HEES found his ‘better’ with Aktion Art. In the beginning, the gallery paid for HEES material and studio space where he painted, now only three years into their work together, the gallery placed him in a museum show and have sold single works for over six figures allowing his art career to sustain him. 

HEES. “White Train,” 2021-22. Acrylic, mixed media, and paint stick on raw canvas. 95×84. Courtesy of the artist.

Numerics, symbology, and music anchor HEES painting practice. Wheels and cogs, machinery, and a vertical line crossed over appear in all works. “White Train ” takes its title from E.G. Daily’s popular song of the same name, and HEES has incorporated its lyrics. Daily and HEES used to record music together in L.A. and have remained friends. Signed by both artists, the piece honors their support of each other. “‘White Train’ is about letting go,” says the artist, but it also impresses that each experience marks us—making us stronger. “I’ll Be The Light” is also named after a song, this time by Kristine W, also a friend and a fellow cancer survivor. The piece is accompanied by a signed copy of the song. 

Through his work, he charts and deciphers the human experience, or rather, how to be a better person. It is layered—although HEES is a self-taught painter and has only painted full-time for three years, his creative foundation is strongly supported by a thirty-year career in the music, photography and beauty industry. This interdisciplinary exposure, along with a deep-seated will to grow and evolve, has fostered dense and methodical work that reaches far beyond the art world for inspiration. “The circles in my paintings represent the soul. It has no beginning nor end; it always has been, and it always will be,” says HEES. The art industry and society as a whole need to continue to find, revive, and innovate ways to support artists who are driven by a deep-seated will to express themselves.

HEES solo show “Evolve” is open through January at Aktion Art, 150 Worth Ave, Suite 224, Palm Beach, FL 33480, and “Pop to Now: Andy Warhol and his Legacy” is open through January 2 at Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, 420 S Tryon St, Charlotte, NC 28202. 

Follow HEES on Instagram or visit his website to learn more. 

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By Anna Mikaela Ekstrand Anna Mikaela Ekstrand has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is an art critic and cultural strategist. She is the founder of Cultbytes an online art publication and culture-focused communications agency. She is also the Associate Director of The Immigrant Artist Biennial and is curating its 2023 edition. Anna Mikaela has held curatorial positions at the Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Arts and Design, Solomon R. Guggenheim, and Bard Graduate Center. She holds dual Master’s Degrees in Art and Design History from Stockholm University and Bard Graduate Center.

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