October 8 - November 10, 2003
P·P·O·W is pleased to announce its third exhibition of paintings by Julie Heffernan. This show marks a radical departure for a painter known for her expansive grand manner landscapes. With this exhibition Heffernan makes a dramatic move indoors, traveling from the verdant excesses of the baroque landscape to the vertiginous indoor salons of an 18h century Kunst Kabinet.
Most of Heffernan's paintings are titled "Self-Portraits." Like complex narratives, the paintings are constructed from an accumulation of symbols around the artist as the central figure, sometimes accompanied by her double. As critic James Yood notes, "her ubiquitous presence turns these paintings into an exotic theater of the multiplicity of self as seen through the history of art." For example, in Self-Portrait as Thing in the Forest III, twins in an elaborate double gown quietly pose by a meandering stream while overhead a tree drops its gem-like fruit, a leafy bush bursts into flames, a host of colorful birds flit around. These scenes surround the main figures, creating an active dream-work of transformational processes within a landscape of rococo exuberance.
Moved indoors, these newest paintings are oriented toward the finely carved and painted ornamental plaster ceilings, chandeliers and walls of centuries past; but containing as well a hint of the social power behind such interiors, as well as the violence implicit in that power. Illusionistic architecture and trompe l'oeil contain cherubs, cupids and allegorical nudes who frolic in floral bowers and sylvan fields just above flames from an exploding chandelier. Self-Portrait as Wunder Kabinet contains paintings within paintings: Heffernan's self-portraits hang in the salon, evocative of those scenes painted by Claude Lorraine and Willem Van Haecht. The mysterious drama of each of these artworks centers on some hint of disaster: a chandelier has burst into flames or cascades down to the floor like an accretion of tumorous crystals. A flurry of Hitchcockian birds emerges and spreads over the scene. The mysterious phenomena depicted in these paintings stun, please, and provoke, prompting rumination on the excesses of social power hidden within the trappings of elegant surface.
Heffernan posits an epistemology of feeling through the eyes, that triggers an "empathic event" in the viewer. In the preface to her recent catalogue she writes, "Empathy is, at its core, imagination. It is the capacity to feel what someone else is feeling simply because we can imagine it." Each painting dramatizes this ability to imagine by depicting the subtly erotic moment "where the lonely boundary of one's body is breached, providing a moment of continuity with another." Heffernan continues, "It is not a simple idea of thick or showy paint that I speak of here, but a concentrated moment of visual density where the paint embodies focus and speaks to a deeper intentionality, where we enter the eyeballs of the artist and become her."
Julie Heffernan was born in 1956 and received a MFA from Yale University. In 1997 she received a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader's Digest award in Giverny; in 1996 a NY Foundation for the Arts award, in 1995 a National Endowments for the Arts grant and in 1986 a Fullbright-Hayes Grant. She has shown in numerous one-person and group exhibitions nationally since 1985.