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Julie Heffernan: When the Water Rises

By Suzanne Cohen

American artist Julie Heffernan will inaugurate “When the Water Rises,” a selection of her recent paintings, on March 23rd at The Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando Florida. The exhibition is a collaboration between the LSU College of Art + Design and LSU Museum of Art.

Heffernan’s recent paintings create alternative habitats in response to environmental disaster and planetary excess. With rising waters, she imagines worlds in trees or on rafts in which undulating mattresses, tree boughs, and road signs guide the journey. Construction cones interrupt the landscape signaling places to stop, enter tiny interior worlds, and reflect on the human condition-its feckless activity, violence, failure, and redemption. Heffernan, a professor of fine arts at Montclair State University, tends these alternative environments to safeguard bounties we cannot live without. In other moments, she names and points fingers to those people and activities implicated in recent calamities of both the physical and socio-political environment. Intricately wrought, Heffernan’s paintings evoke the fantastical allegory of Hieronymus Bosch and the sublime of Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt.

Julie Heffernan, Camp Bedlam, 2016, oil on canvas, 68” x 104.” Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery.

Julie Heffernan, Camp Bedlam, 2016, oil on canvas, 68” x 104.” Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery.

“We are slowly making our world unlivable, and I want to bring to the surface the destructive action, waster, and contamination that is generally invisible to us,” says Heffernan in her artist statement. “I need to imagine another way, to outfit myself with signs and banners that speak louder than I can, to envision how we might remake the world as it is slowly falling apart.”

Shannon Fitzgerald, Executive Director, states: “I am delighted with the opportunity to share the extraordinary paintings by renowned American artist Julie Heffernan, who has long revisited art history and cultural history to address urgent social, political, and environmental concerns in epic scenarios.  Heffernan’s work is provocative, lush, wondrous, and commanding as it lures, seduces, and warns with a prophetic and personal vision that yields a timely universality. She considers the gaze, the female body, family, home and nature-and most, poignantly in this recent series-water. This exhibition shares a powerful punch through beauty-a gift distinct to Heffernan’s visual vocabulary and large-scale execution as the micro merges with the macro in daunting other-world environs, yet as recognizable as our own, troubled, threatening, and urgent situation.” She continues, “I am pleased to present this work in Orlando, as we think about water in our own community especially after experiencing hurricane Irma and Maria and the lasting devastating effects on our community and environment.”

Heffernan’s work has been described by the writer Rebecca Solnit as ”a new kind of history painting” in her essay entitled “Dandelion Clocks and Time Bombs” accompanying Heffernan’s exhibition “Sky is Falling” in 2013 and by the New Yorker as “ironic rococo surrealism with a social-satirical twist.”

Heffernan received her MFA in Painting from Yale and a BFA from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has received numerous grants including an NEA, NYFA, and Fulbright Fellowship and is in the collection of major museums including the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Julie Heffernan, Standing My Ground, 2016, oil on canvas, 68” x 66.” Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery.

Julie Heffernan, Standing My Ground, 2016, oil on canvas, 68” x 66.” Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery.

She has exhibited widely for the past two decades. Selected exhibitions include those at The Korean Biennial (Korea), Weatherspoon Art Gallery (NC), Tampa Museum of Art (FL), Knoxville Museum Of Art (TN), Columbia Museum of Art (SC), Milwaukee Art Museum (WI), The New Museum (NY), The Norton Museum (FL), The American Academy of Arts And Letters (NY), Kohler Arts Center (WI), The Palmer Museum of Art (PA), National Academy of Art (NY), Mcnay Art Museum (TX), Herter Art Gallery (MA), Mint Museum (NC) and Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VA), and Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OK) among numerous others. Heffernan is represented by P.P.O.W in New York and Catharine Clark in San Francisco.

The exhibition, organized by the LSU Museum of Art, will travel throughout 2018, to other venues including Scarfone/Hartley Gallery at The University of Tampa; Palmer Museum of Art at The Pennsylvania State University; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“When the Water Rises” is on view through June 10, 2018. The Mennello Museum is located at 900 E. Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803 |  www.mennellomuseum.org.

Suzanne Cohen is an arts writer based in Orlando.