For over 25 years, preeminent American artist Mary Heilmann has been living and working between New York City and the oceanside hamlet of Bridgehampton on Long Island’s storied East End. Hauser & Wirth Southampton now presents ‘Highway, Oceans, Daydreams,’ an exhibition that juxtaposes new paintings Heilmann has completed over the months of the pandemic while sequestered in Bridgehampton, with earlier works that find her recalling the landscapes of her life.
‘Highway, Oceans, Daydreams’ is the first public exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s Southampton location, which opened in July 2020 as a private viewing space.
From the onset of the global pandemic in March through September of this year, Heilmann remained in Bridgehampton, marking the longest consecutive period she has ever spent at her Long Island studio. During these months she immersed herself in the mutable conditions of light, air, and colors specific to the oceanfront environment, channeling her observations into new paintings that expand upon her ongoing fascination with waves and water. Drawing from a life lived on both coasts (Heilmann’s childhood and college years were informed by her immersion in California’s landscape and surf culture), the new works on view in this exhibition synthesize her memories of the scenic highways and coastal vistas of her youth with the ever changing, elusive geometries of Atlantic Ocean waves.
‘Highway, Oceans, Daydreams’ spotlights Heilmann’s distinctively sculptural approach to paint and unique ability to elicit complex associations through deceptively simple forms. In contrast to earlier paintings that depict water, the new works find her taking a more formalist approach, creating representations of a wave’s spirals, tubes, and undulations. To evoke the texture of sand, Heilmann has employed here, for the first time, a grainy medium mixed into her paint to enhance its thickness and tactility. Her teal blue waters sport frothy white crests that rise on the surface of shaped canvases ranging from as small as four by six inches, to as large as eight feet wide. That her waves envelop the viewer at every scale, is a testament to Heilmann’s virtuosity.
Coupled alongside these new paintings, ‘Highway, Oceans, Daydreams’ will feature older works that contextualize the sculptural ambition of her brightly painted shaped canvases, as well as Heilmann’s stained wood panels that incorporate the underlying woodgrain into their composition. All of her varied techniques on view reinforce the artist’s consistent inventiveness and deep connection with the boundless unknowability of the ocean and the landscape of her America.
About the Artist
Heilmann has been a longstanding member of the New York City and Hamptons art communities since she arrived from California in 1968. Moving to the East Coast prompted a paradigmatic shift in the artist’s practice as she moved her focus from sculpture to painting. While the latter medium was proclaimed ‘dead’ by contemporary artists and critics, Heilmann undertook a conscious effort to challenge expectations, contradict art historical traditions, and provoke conversation by prioritizing a loose handling of paint and foreground evidence of her hand and process within each work.
Her work ultimately served not only to further painting as a medium, but also to disrupt prevailing theories of the hard-edge and color field movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. Over the course of the ensuing decades, she has emerged as a significant American master who has exerted a profound influence upon a younger group of artists, not only through her technique and spatially dichotomous compositions, but also through her teachings and lectures.