Mary Heilmann

Painting a line across canvas with a brush is similar to the motion of a wave breaking.

In 2007 a Mary Heilmann retrospective opened at the Orange County Museum, Newport Beach, California, before traveling to other venues, including the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, in 2009. In the catalog essay, Dave Hickey speaks of sharing with Heilmann “a tiny arc, a traverse through the historical world. We rode the same waves on adjacent beaches in Southern California. Alive with terror, we launched ourselves off the same diving platforms…. First and foremost (and as quaint as this may sound), we thought of ourselves as American. We are members, in fact, of the last generation for whom being an American seemed an intriguing and exciting proposition.”

Hickey speaks of Heilmann’s “resolutely high-style American painting,” of her “cavalier informality,” and of how “the canvas support on which she paints somehow manages to remain, in the minimalist tradition, a literal object—a literal object, however, that has been impudently decorated with painted marks.” He says that “she has never trafficked in the ‘new nostalgia’ of current European painting,” and at the end of his essay goes back to the metaphor of surfing. “Anything that goes well,” he explains, “feels like dropping perfectly into the wave, like giving yourself up at the exact instant… For me, the confidence, anxiety, and relaxed intensity in Mary Heilmann’s work speaks this physical/intellectual language.” Dodie Kazanjian, writing in the August 2007 issue of Vogue, voices a similar feeling: “My eyes kept going back to the blue-and-white canvas. It was minimal but raw, an empty, sensuously brushed, somewhat sloppy blue square on an even emptier white ground, yet it contained a world of associations: water, sky, summer, youth, infinity. If I could look at this painting every day, I thought, I’d never need the simple beach house of my dreams.”

Mary Heilmann was born in San Francisco in 1940 and grew up in Southern California. She has a B.A. in Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara and an M.A. in Ceramics and Sculpture from the University of California, Berkeley. She moved to New York in 1968 where she was friendly with Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra, both of whom she had known in San Francisco. She was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art Annual in 1972, and in 1975 she joined the Holly Solomon Gallery, where she showed regularly through 1981.

Heilmann joined the Pat Hearn Gallery in New York in 1986, and until Hearn died in 2000, she was part of an unusually close group of artists and friends associated with the gallery. In 1990 the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, exhibited a survey of Heilmann’s painting, and in 2016 the Whitechapel Gallery, London, presented a solo exhibition of her work. In 2017 the Dia: Dan Flavin Art Institute exhibited a survey of her work made since the 1970s in Bridgehampton, New York. She produced print projects at Crown Point Press in 1998, 2006, and 2017 and has also worked in printmaking with Pace Editions in New York. In 1997 she had her first show at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, Zurich and London, where she continues to exhibit regularly. Heilmann’s paintings are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and many other museums worldwide. She is represented by 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth Gallery.

-Kathan Brown, Crown Point Press

  • Mary Heilmann at Crown Point Press, September 2017 (3 minutes)

    Watch Mary Heilmann working on her recent etchings in the Crown Point studio.

  • Mary Heilmann at Crown Point Press (2 minutes)

    Artist Mary Heilmann discusses printmaking at Crown Point Press in San Francisco.

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