New York

Willy Heeks

Beitzel Fine Arts

In the last few years Willy Heeks has become a formidable presence among a growing group of disenfranchised young artists who reject current criticism’s definitions of post-Modernism. Rather than making work that packages the rupture between present and past, the artist takes up where he believes Abstract Expressionism left off. In the decade after Pollock’s death, formalist criticism codified various proscriptions regarding painting. And although formalism has been largely discredited, many of its attitudes are still prevalent in today’s art, such as in Peter Halley’s “neo-geo” paintings, which can also be seen as neo-Greenbergian. Heeks goes against such revisionist practice, embracing such previously blacklisted means as a freewheeling painterly approach, linearity, spatiality, and pictorial light.

Not only the breadth of Heeks’ attack distinguishes him, but also the degree to which he has integrated such components as linearity and spatiality. The paintings consist of layers of different densities, usually with the ground being the thinnest and most atmospheric. The artist then explodes this ground through various means. Typically, jagged horizontal bands are interwoven with linear vertical structures that bear a strong resemblance to atomic structures. Heeks intuitively weaves all of these elements together in such a way that he achieves a remarkable balance, simply through the act of painting.

Although the paintings are fundamentally rooted in nature, they suspend gravity. The atomlike structures and patches of paint seem to float effortlessly both on the surface of the picture plane and within the space generated by their expansiveness. And in a number of paintings, Heeks is able to balance a dark, vertically elongated linear structure against a white one. Contrary to our expectations, neither one of them is able to assert its dominance over the other.

Among other things, Heeks’ paintings force us to reevaluate the premium the art world has placed on narrow definitions of historical periods and mainstream art. In exploding the myth that the history of art is simply a logical succession of styles, his paintings assert their own undeniable place in the current scheme. More important, his restless but accomplished style and painterly intelligence suggest that something even stronger and more commanding is within his grasp.

John Yau