The brilliant hue of yellow emanating from the canvas complements Heilmann’s keen sense of colour that can be seen throughout her work. Born in California in 1940, Heilmann studied both poetry and sculpture before honing her talent in clay, furniture and abstract paintings. Every object and canvas she creates has a backstory, imbued with recollections, stories spun from her imagination or encapsulating a moment from her dreamscape. Heilmann’s paintings are like intense meditations, radiating a hallucinogenic euphoria of blaring colour but gently highlight the organic process used to create the work.
The riotous splurge of yellow we see in Versace I may also originate from the artist’s professed desire to harness the glorious tones and light that radiates from her laptop, especially from the saturated colours of TV cartoons such as The Simpsons. With her roots lying in pottery, Heilmann treats each canvas like a three dimensional object. She paints the stretcher bars and around the edges of the canvas, extending the creativity beyond the realms of the two dimensional flat plane.
Although Versace I was executed in 1997, there is a clear link between this work and her paintings from the beginning of her career in the 70s. Citing Agnes Martin as a true hero, her slippery abstractions embrace the challenge of painting precisely. With a woozy edge to her monochrome squares, splashes of pigment defile pristine backgrounds and stripes bleed past their borders disrupting their minimal grids. Heilmann deconsecrates the supposed purity of abstract art, infusing it with colours and forms from the world around her.
Heilmann has created a kaleidoscopic delight within Versace I, the paradoxical outcome of her roughness of hand yet the care and attention to the blaring colour always gives her work edginess and a beat-up urban feel. Her use of paint, occasionally straight from the pot, demonstrates Heilmann’s trust in the fundamentals of colour and validates her desire to find the purest pigments that will elevate her conscious thought. A retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2016 established Heilmann’s gravitas within the Contemporary art scene, proving her work acutely relevant and enticingly provocative.
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