Los Angeles

Phil Hefferton

Rolf Nelson Gallery

Phil Hefferton’s oil renderings based on U.S. paper currency are, of course, absurd. They are inaccurate, badly painted, misspelled, egotistical, flagrantly disrespectful, and usually ludicrous. And one cannot help but admire them for just those reasons, which is exactly the accomplished intention of the artist. To fully understand the point of Hefferton’s statement, one should justifiably demand a comprehensive exhibit such as this first local one of Hefferton’s now famous “mad money.”

What the artist points out is that there is another world within the world of paper money. There is American history and there are American heroes, names, numbers, homes, tragedies, triumphs, worship, traditional American romanticism, and even the Americans’ unyielding anxiety to have faith, at least in banknotes. Our money is, of course, a mixed symbol; it has the imagery of idealism, and the bite of pragmatism—one that is increasingly complex, and apparently not wholly rewarding. It is as though Hefferton, caught in this vortex of paradox, not only grasps, but challenges the one overpowering symbol of our time and drags it into an environment of personal relationship that humanizes an often inhumane artifice. His devices are wit, empathy and a horrendous anxiety—or perhaps more accurately—a desperation to simply relate to something, to anything. In this there is, perhaps, a key to the entire sensibility of the Pop Art idea. Many of the “etched” portraits are those of Hefferton himself; his name appears on banners and in signatures, and there are even touching pleas such as “This certificate is tender, handle it carefully.” And there is a rendering of the White House that, in spite of Hefferton’s loose, consciously casual brushwork, is outrightly sentimental.

Clair Wolfe