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Mary Heilmann in "Fantasy"

“Every piece of abstract art that I make has a back story,” says Mary Heilmann, who relays youthful fantasies of wanting to be a Catholic martyr, her childhood dream to become an artist, as well as the antagonism she experienced in school when transitioning from pottery to painting. Shown completing a new body of work, the segment begins in the artist’s secluded Bridgehampton studio on Long Island.

“My spiritual life is very important to me and I think the artworks are icons,” says Heilmann, who believes in the ecumenical power of art to “transport a person in a soulful, rich way, without having any fear of punishment or Hell or sin.” The segment also features Heilmann’s touring retrospective at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, where she’s designed colorful chairs on wheels that viewers can use to relax, meditate, or socialize with one another and have “a conversation through the work.”

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Mary Heilmann

For every piece of Mary Heilmann’s work—abstract paintings, ceramics, and furniture—there is a backstory. Imbued with recollections, stories spun from her imagination, and references to music, aesthetic influences, and dreams, her paintings are like meditations or icons. Her expert and sometimes surprising treatment of paint—alternately diaphanous and goopy—complements a keen sense of color that glories in the hues and light that emanate from her laptop, and finds inspiration in the saturated colors of TV cartoons. Her compositions are often hybrid spatial environments that juxtapose two- and three-dimensional renderings in a single frame, join several canvases into new works, or create diptychs of paintings and photographs in the form of prints, slideshows, and videos.

“I thought about making pieces, partly for their formal values, and also very much for…what kind of response I would get to it. And often the response that I wanted was one of antagonism. I wanted to cause trouble.”

Mary Heilmann

1:59
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Mary Heilmann

3:10
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Mary Heilmann

2:47
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Mary Heilmann

This interview consists of excerpts from a 2008 interview with Mary Heilmann, in which she discusses her formative years in California; evolution from literature to ceramics to painting; and many inspirations, including video games and roadways.

13:43
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13:25
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12:43
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