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Photograph: New York City on Nov. 22, 2015 by Ryan McGinley
Born in California in 1940, Mary Heilmann studied ceramics, literature, poetry and sculpture in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Berkeley, before moving to New York in 1968. While in New York, she took up painting, experimenting with bright colors, drips and unorthodox geometries – a move which was particularly radical due to the fact the medium had been declared ‘dead’ and the majority of her artistic contemporaries were performance artists or sculptors....
A retrospective of Heilmann’s work entitled Looking at Pictures opens today [June 8, 2016] at The Whitechapel Gallery. It seeks to consider the autobiographical themes that recur throughout her oeuvre – listed by the exhibition's curator Lydia Yee as "memory and biography, pictorial space, and the influence of popular culture," alongside more formal approaches to artistic style and practice. “Every piece of abstract art that I make has a backstory,” Heilmann has said. Each work is imbued with personal recollections or cultural references: the surreal beach life of the west coast, counter-culture, dreams and invented stories, and friendships with New York artists, poets and musicians all form the bedrock of Heilmann’s eclectic creative output.
...The exhibition spans Heilmann’s prolific 5-decade career, from early geometric paintings made in the 1970s, to more recent off-kilter canvases in neon or clashing colors. Alongside painting, a selection of ceramics, and works on paper are on show, allowing further access into her eye-popping and playful approach to art and abstraction, and the watercolor studies have never been...