Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Narrative and Fantasy in Imagined Spaces" - Article about Artist Julie Heffernan

"Self Portrait as Broken Dishes"  by Julie Heffernan  Oil, 74" x 68". Image from PPOW Gallery.

I'm finally getting around to posting my article on the brilliant artist Julie Heffernan. This was published in the Portrait Society of America Journal (Issue no. 56) a few months ago.

I've been a fan of Ms. Heffernan for many years and her work takes my breath away. The first time I saw one of her paintings was at the Armory Show in New York City a few years ago. It was a large painting and I stood before it with my mouth open for a while.

She is a wonderfully articulate artist and is fascinating to talk to. She has so many thought-provoking ideas about the mind of the artist, visual connection and communication. I encourage you to search out her various interviews on the internet if her work interests you.

 "Self-Portrait as Talking Stones" by Julie Heffernan. Oil, 72" x 68". Image from PPOW Gallery.

A photograph of Ms. Heffernan. Image from this site.

The artist has a new show opening soon at PPOW Gallery in New York; more information can be viewed here.

I'm reprinting the body of my PSA article below:

Julie Heffernan - Narrative and Fantasy in Imagined Spaces

By Linda Tracey Brandon

A woman stands in a forest in an extraordinary gown made of dead rabbits, deer and other game. A willowy young man climbs a tree consisting of limbs with sawed-off branches, visited by curious bird life. The world of Julie Heffernan is teeming - with life, with objects, with allegory and with mystery. Her world is simultaneously whimsical and troubling, surreal yet bizarrely and lushly stylized. Her work is original and personal with a distinctly individual viewpoint, and it brings to mind such masters as Brueghel and Bosch with strange beings in surreal spaces.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist was born in 1956 and received her MFA from Yale University. Heffernan is currently the program head of the BFA in Studio Art at Montclair State university in New Jersey and has received a number of awards in her career, including a Lila Acheson Wallace award, a New York Foundation for the Arts award, a grant from the national Endowment for the Arts, and the Fulbright-Hayes Grant.

Her work is in one sense a reaction against the Minimalism of the 1970's art world. The viewer sense that Heffernan is producing visual messages in a highly personal way, to be recieved on both personal and cultural levels. "I needed to re-engage the emotions in art, and eventually went my own way, going forward by looking  back to the long history of imagery that was still as ripe and potent as ever to me - the golden persimmons of Spanish Still Life Painting, the skirts of Ter Borch, the wigs of las Menihas. Seen through the lens of feminism those early paintings had an erotic charge that I mined for my own purposes," says Heffernan. She is interested in how artists communicate through time and space through imagery and she wanted to be one of those artists who engaged with viewers, intellectually and emotionally. "I really think it's an ongoing conversation across time and there are artists you want to talk to, who talk back to you, as opposed to those who don't."

The images, tokens and symbols in Heffernan's work are integral to the design of her work. They are not randomly placed. Yet, they are most often a product of what she describes as "image streaming", images seen in a half-wakeful state of mind. "These images are a breed unto themselves; not fantasies, or dreams, or daydreams, but like someone else's movie that you happen to be watching. I really don't know what these pictures have to do with my own psychology, but it's fun to watch them roll." Heffernan's process is narrative and cinematic in the sense that a drama unfolds as she is working on the painting.

Her work is representational (though not "realistic") and highly imaginative. Her working method consists of having an idea for a painting and then after an initial preliminary sketch, she starts painting on the canvas, letting her imagination take over. Heffernan calls this "Image Streaming":, which she first became aware of during her Fulbright year at Yale University School of Art. In image streaming, one starts with an image and allows the mind to open and let images flood in, in a waking sleep, following the story of the painting much as a novelist might allow a storyline to develop or an animator working from a storyboard. She doesn't plot out the theme before hand but since she works large, she gets lost in the created world as she works on the canvas.

 "Budding Boy" 78 x 56, image from PPOW Gallery

Heffernan says of her work "Budding Boy" (2010) , a young man in a tree holding a mysterious sphere: "I'll sketch in the first incarnation of 'guy in tree' and then it unspools over time - if I'm lucky - the reason he's in the tree, what he's doing in the tree, how he feels in the tree... Just everything that is the story then happens, and I do the thing like a writer does, the visual equivalent of listening for the voices." "Source follows the idea," says Heffernan. In other words, she isn't a slave to her source material and allows herself to transform images as she pleases and as the needs of her painting dictates. On the other hand, she regards structure - flat and spatial design - to be paramount to her work. Her figures inhabit landscapes that mirror the interior world of the subjects within them. Recent themes reflect her deep concern for the future of our planet and the welfare of the next generations of life.

"If I'm lucky," says Heffernan, "I'll unearth a deeper story in the process of painting than the one I started with, one that contains a secret within it, which takes me to a more complex level of understanding. Secrets occur in painting where imagery gives way to moments of felt touch, an odd detail, particularized nodal points that conjure up an awareness of a deeper level of intention. The experience reminds me of the ancient Greek theory of vision, conceived as a kind of effluvium emanating from the pupil that reaches out and touches the object of vision with "psychopodia", or mind fingers. This kind of felt touch happens with the recognition of a secret in a painting. We are, all of a sudden, touching inside ourselves, linked for an instant both to our own subconscious experience and to the mind of the artist through its painted corollary buried somewhere in the painting... It is an opening."


Alexandra Tyng said...

Excellent article! I enjoyed reading it again. Reading what she says about her art and imagery makes me think more about all the possibilities open to the artist.

jeff said...

I love her work as well.
She was a visiting critic for a day when I was in grad school. We had an interesting conversation about a painting in general. She's a hard critic and you need to be on your toes with her.

Linda Tracey Brandon said...

Hi Alex - I agree - there's so much to think about there.

Linda Tracey Brandon said...

Hi jeff - I can see how she would push artists hard to examine what they're doing in their art, to really think hard about what they're trying to say, and why.

Joaquin said...

Fascinating painting. After reading your article, I like it even more.

Linda Tracey Brandon said...

Thanks, Joaquin!