Mary Heilmann: Looking at Pictures
Mary Heilmann: Looking at Pictures
Mary Heilmann: Looking at Pictures
Mary Heilmann: Looking at Pictures

Mary Heilmann: Looking at Pictures

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This catalog was published on the occasion of Heilmann's solo exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 2016. Edited by Lydia Yee. With an essay by Briony Fer and writings by Mary Heilmann.

Hardback, 192 pages, 100 color illustrations.


Crown Point staff member Carleigh Koger writes this review of the book:

Mary Heilmann, an abstract painter who also makes ceramics and furniture, takes an autobiographical approach to abstraction, interweaving memories of growing up on the West Coast in the ‘40s and of living in New York in the ‘70s. Friends, family, music, and television play important roles in her work, illustrated in the form of grids and geometric shapes with vivid colors that jump from the canvas.

After moving from California to New York City in 1968, Heilmann made the decision to define herself as a painter. She considered painting to be “rebellious” (her own word) because it had been deemed “dead” and “boring” at the time. Dissatisfied with the lack of recognition for women artists, herself included, she began painting as a way of starting a conversation. Soon after, the catalog notes, Heilmann earned success when she was invited to participate in the 1972 Annual Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art alongside more than 100 other artists including Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and Sylvia Mangold.

Heilmann applies personal narrative in her abstract paintings, which are often homages to significant people and places. For example, Gordy’s Square (3 x 3 Yellow Blue) (1976), honors Heilmann’s close friend, artist Gordon Matta-Clark. In response to Matta-Clark’s process of deconstructing an abandoned building to create his art, Heilmann scraped through the blue topcoat of paint on her canvas to reveal the yellow layer underneath. “I wasn’t really thinking about painting” she explained, “I was thinking about structures.”

In one of the last chapters of the catalog, “Every Piece has a Backstory,” Heilmann describes the inspiration behind fourteen paintings made between 1970 and 2014. Named after the address of the house her mother grew up in, 311 Castro Street is a colorful painting with a mint green background and floating rainbow-colored boxes. Mint green is evocative of the painted wall panels inside her mother’s house, Heilmann remembered, and the colored boxes correlate to the windows throughout the house. This chapter conjures a sense of intimacy reflecting a personal conversation with the artist.

Looking at Pictures is full of thoughtful detail about the vivid life and art of Mary Heilmann. She reinvents abstraction by revealing her life through expressive colors and abstract forms that span a wide range of media. Readers can gain new perspectives about her creative process throughout her five-decade career.