Mary Heilmann (b. 1940) is a contemporary abstract artist based in New York and Long Island. She creates paintings along with sculptures and furniture. Rather than referring to her works as paintings or sculptures, however, she typically refers to her work as “objects”. In recent exhibitions, she has included benches and chairs which guests are encouraged to use. The idea, as Heilmann explains, “is that people will sit down and stay awhile”.
Her light-hearted nature is evident both in her art and her demeanor. In reference to her woven seats, she said, “It’s such a mortal sin to use art as décor. But I love the confusion”.
Born and raised in California, she grew up among beatniks and embraced “surf culture”. For her undergraduate degree, she studied literature and poetry at UC Santa Barbara. For her MFA, she studied sculpture at Berkeley. Between the two degrees, she also received a teaching license. Like many artists, she taught to help finance her art practice.
She departed from sculpture and took up painting in the 1970’s despite its lack luster popularity (painting was deemed dead at that time).
She calls it “non-verbal math”. She plays with logic by way of juxtaposition and combination.
I love her candor and optimism. She does the work but doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her Art21 interview is the most entertaining and joyful segments in the series to date.
She is playful yet rebellious. In the 1970’s, she made works that referenced minimalism and color field paintings… and used PINK. More recently, she adopted the colors of “The Simpsons”.
Meditation, looking and walking all have a place in her art practice. Every morning, she wakes before 6AM, drinks coffee and looks at her work for an hour. She then begins to work. At 1PM, she eats and takes care of chores and business. Later in the afternoon, she returns to the studio. By 5pm, she leaves the studio, takes a walk or swims and goes to bed early. Purposeful and idyllic.
I like Mary Heilmann, and I enjoy her work. However, her works feels lopsided. The majority (if not all) of her work is playful and witty. She doesn’t explore sadness or grief in her work. The only pieces that feel the least bit melancholic are Rosebud (1983) and some of her works from the 1970s.
Learn more about Mary Heilmann and her work:
•Farago, Jason, “Artist Mary Heilmann: the Californian surfer still making waves in her 70s”, The Guardian, 6 June 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/06/mary-heilmann-unsung-heroine-american-art-david-hockney#img-4
•Hawksley, Rupert, “Mary Heilmann: in the studio”, The Telegraph, 17 June 2016, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/artists/mary-heilmann-in-the-studio/
•Samet, Jennifer, “Wild, Punk and Slightly Off-Kilter: An Interview with Mary Heilmann”, Hyperallergic, 12 January 2013, https://hyperallergic.com/63358/wild-punk-and-slightly-off-kilter-an-interview-with-mary-heilmann/
•Sheets, Hilarie M., “Mary Heilmann’s New Dia Show Places Her among the (Male) Icons for Minimalism”, Artsy, 30 June 2017, https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-mary-heilmanns-new-dia-places-male-icons-minimalism
•Spears, Dorothy, “Swimming With the Big Fish at Last”, The New York Times, 3 October 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/05/arts/design/05spea.html
•Yablonsky, Linda, “The Composer: Mary Heilamann’s Rhythmic Abstractions Find Their Place in the Sun”, ARTNews, 8 March 2016, http://www.artnews.com/2016/03/08/the-composer-mary-heilmanns-rhymthic-abstractions-find-their-place-in-the-sun/
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith
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