Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Mary Heilmann – Visions, Waves and Roads at Hauser & Wirth

Firstly I am ashamed to say I hadn’t really heard of Heilmann before this exhibition. I was bored and depressed from my visit to Hauser and Wirths other enormous Saville Row gallery, showing dull, formulaic paintings by not so YBA Michael Raedecker, so uninteresting, that the PV needed a huge brass band to distract from the images!

Walking into Heilmann’s show was a complete contrast and at first not a nice one, its full, there must be over a hundred painting, chairs and ceramic panels. Bright colours, odd angular shapes and busy patterns left me momentarily stunned. And slowly as I ventured further into the space, taking a seat to rest from the colourful assault, a smile crept onto my face. The exhibition is euphoric, I don’t think I would have looked twice at many of the pieces individually, yet as a whole they have an exciting energy. The exhibition's very obvious title is perfect, one is led through a completely mad series of landscapes, the natural free brushwork of ‘waves’, the man-made, severe and solid ‘roads’ and the insane primary and neon ‘visions’.

Usually such a negative word, quirky, here seems to work, Tetris like angular canvases jostle with blobby ceramic cartouches. Everything is very handmade. Heilmann is someone whose joy and excitement by making is obvious, and infectious. It makes you want to grab a brush and go wild. An almost art as therapy approach, again usually so negative, seems to work, visions of a mad artist who cannot eat, sleep or stop – a crazed need to create.

Walking around the exhibition is a full on experience, and I’m sure not to everyone’s taste, but getting over the initial onslaught leads one into a rewarding flow, as the eye is drawn to curious little patterns, odd materials and a thrilling storyline, emerging from the noise. An almost filmic backdrop of Americana starts to emerge, the long endless highways, untamed nature and a hippyish experimentation. An Easy Rider of small canvases jostling for attention.

I am so excited to have discovered Heilmann (embarrassed it took so long) and strongly advise a trip to the show on until the 5 April. And don’t be put off by initial reactions, have a sit down in one of her fabulously garish chairs- and wheel yourself around her world. You wont regret it!

Interacting with the Heilmann

Paul Kindersley

23 February – 5 April 2012
Hauser & Wirth London,
Savile Row, South Gallery


  1. Rather surprising that you are unfamiliar with the work of Mary Heilmann who is commonly regarded by the artistic community as a great artist and a painer's painter.

    The New Museum in New York, which had a retrospective of Heilmann's work, had this to say:

    "Heilmann is one of the preeminent artists of her generation—a pioneering painter whose work injects abstraction with elements from popular culture and craft traditions. A “painter’s painter,” her straightforward, seemingly loose and casual approach belies a witty dialogue with art historical preconceptions. As Dave Hickey writes: “The canons of geometric abstraction, Color Field painting, and Minimalism are honored in the spirit but not in the letter. In Heilmann’s synthesis, they are straightforwardly looted as available precedents.”

    Heilmann’s work has been deeply influenced by her personal experiences, including a childhood and adolescence split between Los Angeles-area beaches and Bay Area beatnik clubs. The impact of this thoroughly West Coast childhood is seen in the vibrant, lusty color palette, sense of boundless possibility, and experimentation for which Heilmann’s paintings are known. The sense of movement and rhythm evident in the work—as well as many of the paintings’ titles—are connected to Heilmann’s enthusiasm for popular music ranging from Brian Eno to the Sex Pistols, to k.d. lang and beyond. The freedom of abstraction combines with an element of autobiography, making Heilmann’s paintings highly influential to a younger generation of artists. Ultimately, Heilmann’s practice can be seen as an all-encompassing network linking genres, styles, friends, locations, and histories—enabling each individual work to speak eloquently on its own terms as well as in a larger chorus."

    1. I was embarrassed! but there has been hardly any showing of her work in the UK.
      I think it almost added to my enjoyment of the show- to come unarmed with any preconceptions.
      Thanks for the added info- and am looking forward to getting to know more about Heilmann.