New York

Mary Heilmann

Holly Solomon Gallery

The interest of Mary Heilmann’s paintings is in the discrepancy between their obvious structure (strictly deductive) and their subtleties of execution—how they were painted. Composed of rectangles which either frame the edges and/or divide the canvas into two rectangles, they do not claim any new structural identity. The “drawing” of the rectangles is done in one-shot Ryman-like strokes. But these strokes are bolder, more vigorous—closer to Kline than any post-Minimal painting. The image and the style of painting are simple—it is the layering of the paint, the textures along two thickly painted strokes, and the gradual fading away of the stroke at the end of the canvas when the paint runs out, which are interesting. For example, a stroke finished off at the top left hand corner of a painting looks more as if it was improperly silk-screened (like the under-inking of Warhol) than painted robustly with a wide brush. As in Warhol, the “mistake” takes on the quality of the handmade, the human, the fallible.

Heilmann’s strongest point is her craft—doing things with materials which repudiate the impersonal and machine-made. Again, this brings us back to the last painting style which was founded upon the notion of the individual “touch,” Abstract Expressionism. If Solomon uses prearranged images which seem to signify nothing, it is because pleasure for her lies within the thick, layered, uninflected paint. Her problem is to discover a compositional structure which will be as inventive, as expressive, as her painting style.

Heilmann chooses red, yellow, and blue as her colors, and rather presumptuously attempts to aggrandize the works by acclaiming them (in the show’s title) the “first red, yellow and blue paintings.” Primary colors are by now very safe to begin with because we accept their use from a tradition spanning from Mondrian to Newman. If Heilmann was intending to do away with or ignore her historical models, she has failed, because that very history gives her work more resonance.

Jeff Perrone