Mary Heilmann | Inspiration

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EXCLUSIVE: In her Long Island studio, Mary Heilmann discusses two inspirations for her work: tea bowls that adhere to the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of Wabi-sabi and the cartoon color pallette used in The Simpsons television show. Heilmann contrasts her working method with that of the Abtract Expressionists, preferring to find “the easiest way to do it” which often involves thinking through the compositions and colors with a computer. The video features ceramics and paintings installed as part of the artist’s traveling retrospective To Be Someone at the New Museum and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

For every piece of Mary Heilmann’s work—abstract paintings, ceramics, and furniture—there is a backstory. Imbued with recollections, stories spun from her imagination, and references to music, aesthetic influences, and dreams, her paintings are like meditations or icons. Her compositions are often hybrid spatial environments that juxtapose two- and three-dimensional renderings in a single frame, join several canvases into new works, or create diptychs of paintings and photographs in the form of prints, slideshows, and videos. Heilmann sometimes installs her paintings alongside chairs and benches that she builds by hand, an open invitation for viewers to socialize and contemplate her work communally.

Mary Heilmann is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Fantasy of the Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century television series on PBS. Watch the full episode online in the PBS Video portal (available for a limited time, through November 13, 2009).

VIDEO | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Mark Falstad & Joel Shapiro. Sound: Roger Phenix. Editor: Paulo Padilha & Mark Sutton. Artwork Courtesy: Mary Heilmann. Special Thanks: Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, & The New Museum, New York.

Contributor
Jonathan Munar is the Director of Digital Media and Strategy at Art21, overseeing the organization's overall digital, Web, and social media presences. He edits and contributes to Art21's "Art 2.1" column.

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