Mary Heilmann

San Francisco USA 1940, lives and works in New York

Mary Heilmann’s abstract paintings, often composed of flowing and transparent colors, echo the images and sounds of the day. Her work alludes to pop culture, literature, film, landscape, fashion, almost anything. A mint-green kitchen from the 1950’s, the patterns of a Mexican blanket, everyday packaging materials, the mood at a certain time of day – all of these can be the start of a painting. ‘What I am looking for in my work is that it have a sense of time and place: current time and place; past time and place; future time and place – each painting to evoke memory and premonition at once.’

Heilmann, who began painting relatively late (having first studied literature, ceramics and sculpture), places herself within the geometric-abstract tradition of painters such as Mondrian, Reinhardt and Kelly. Her sensitivity to daily impressions, in which little distinction is made between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, is also reminiscent of Pop Art, but her fascination as a painter concerns the way in which simple structures can ‘fall into place’, how atmosphere and rhythm can emerge from pure geometry.

The organized layout and the forcefully painted areas make Laurens of 1986 a very direct painting. Two grey lines divide the work into four equal parts, but one can hardly speak of a static effect here. The result is sooner filmic – as though, within the identical segments, the red and the yellow planes are not entirely ‘in focus’. The areas of color moreover seem to be adrift: their positions in relation to the grey grid give rise to a sense of vertical movement.

Over the years Heilmann’s painting has developed, from a certain severity, into a way of dealing with the paint that allows for more elegance, virtuosity and seductiveness. Her works look like lively constructions, anarchistic in feeling and yet disciplined in form. Or as an art critic once said: ‘More than any other painter working today, Mary Heilmann can make a quickly flicked drip, a loosely brushed smudge or a solitary dollup of color seem like a big event.’