Born in San Francisco in 1940, Heilmann trained as a sculptor and came to painting only through self-taught experimentation. Perhaps this is why her work is so physically incisive and exciting - her paintings share Pop Art's athletic boldness but many of them are abstract in the strictest sense of the word. Heilmann even refers to the anti-materialist ideology of the Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich in Malevich Spin (2011), which tightens the Russian painter's radically scattered rectangles and squares into a single, playful object.
Despite this, Heilmann has said that her 'inspiration doesn't really come from the history of painting', but instead from popular culture and street fashion. This may seem surprising, given her work's geometric preoccupations, but it is part of a hippyish, West Coast rejection of the materialist and utilitarian. Her garish, angular chairs in particular subvert functional structure and form with their playful gestures of colour and line. Youthful and cheeky, Heilmann's work is as modern as ever, and shares much more with punk and the non-conformist attitudes of the Beat generation than with any kind of routine, painterly sensibility.
|What||Mary Heilmann exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery|
72-78 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX | MAP
|Nearest tube||Whitechapel (underground)|
08 Jun 16 – 28 Aug 16, Closed Monday, open daily from 11am to 6pm, Thursday til 9pm
|Website||Mary Heilmann, Whitechapel Gallery|