The surreal beach life of Los Angeles, 1960s counter culture, pop songs and friendships with New York artists, poets and musicians are the well springs of Mary Heilmann’s dazzling abstractions.
‘Every piece of abstract art that I make has a backstory’. Heilmann (b. 1940) takes colour, line and shape on unexpected journeys. Polka dots waft across eye-popping hues corralled within irregular rectangles. The poetry of her works lies in the tension between the rigours of geometry and the contingencies of the human and the organic.
The Whitechapel Gallery exhibition Looking at Pictures begins with paintings based on the square, the grid and architectural details, such as The First Vent (1972). They are juxtaposed with glazed ceramics, hovering between painting and sculpture. A slide show, Her Life (2006), features Heilmann’s paintings and personal photographs set to an eclectic mix of music.
Choreographed across the long upper gallery dynamic canvases represent ‘autobiographical markers’ – painterly haikus of the artist’s life. Their vibrancy is matched by their titles – Bush of Ghosts (1980) or Good Vibrations Diptych, Remembering David (2012). Heilmann invites the viewer to become immersed in her synaesthetic stories while sitting in her colourful chairs.