Comments on: Now or Else: Charline Von Heyl Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: Nick Moore Sat, 19 May 2012 11:24:15 +0000 I had the opportunity last week end to drop into the Tate Liverpool to see the Von Heyl Exhibition, spurred on partly by John’s enthusiastic review and encouragement. And I am glad I did. Though it was not without trepidation, having read on the Tate flyer ‘Abstract painting today is epitomised by this artist’…..Having been to the Indiscipline of Painting at Tate St Ives I gathered myself for ….what? (more slick graphic/design/illustration based impersonal/fashionable painting….) and tried to enter the gallery with an open mind. I had not encountered her paintings in the flesh before, only in books and articles, and wasn’t sure what to make of them, though they did draw my attention with their sometimes jarring juxtapositions and contradictions.
And there in front of me on walking in was ‘Woman 2’, from 2009 an overtly figurative image, unquestionably a female outline, on a background of pastel diamond patterns, but with two fleshily painted circles and the rest of the body similarly painted, filled with black, grey and pink diamonds partially obscured with black splodges; in a recent article, in Bomb magazine, from which John includes a different quote, Von Heyl states that ‘if I hear the explanation that I am hovering between abstraction and representation one more time I’m going to go on a killing spree.’ Watch out NY, you have been warned! But this painting is clearly a female figure, with painterly areas and graphic patterns…

This use of overt ‘representational’ or ‘figurative’ imagery is there in a few of the paintings in the exhibition. Sometimes it is in the background – as in ‘Regretsy’ also from 2009, where the dense, grey, knowingly Cubist mesh of glasses and bottles are subordinated to a squarish darker shape, leading to an intense visual incongruity; sometimes it is less obvious, as in the title eg ‘Frenhoferin’ also from 2009, with its layers of ‘dirty colours and pearlescent, decaying flesh tones’ enmeshed in a distorted grid in which Von Heyl wanted ‘to go completely over the top with it and create the ultimate paradox; a painting that would be all flesh and therefore all representational, but also completely abstract’ (catalogue, ICA Pennsylvania 2011) it is reminiscent of a Klee, but more sensual and references the Unknown Masterpiece in which the female form is overpainted so much it becomes an abstract ‘mess’;
and sometimes the imagery is obvious in both the title and the painting, as in ‘Flagbird’ 2011, in which a black and white polka-dot bird sits between the stained/poured brown on the left half of the canvas and the ubiquitous black and white diamonds on the right. There is no getting away from this abstraction/representation tension, it is there in the paintings.

In all, these are knowing paintings full of art historical references, some less obvious than others ( eg Frenhofer), even though they start from zero. They are full of paradoxes and sharp edges, with references to hard-edged and painterly abstraction, comics, cartoons and graphics, some juxtapositions of which are more satisfying than others; but perhaps the biggest paradox is in Von Heyl herself. In the Bomb interview she says ‘It’s almost the main question: how to get a painting beyond design?… But to get there without depictions, without representational images, which I just see as words—that is really hard.’ then she continues later ‘as long as I know what I am doing, I design….I don’t want to make the painting, I want the painting to invent itself and surprise me.’
And as John says, “Von Heyl by-passes received notions as to what an abstract painting should look like by taking hold of these ubiquitous visual languages and transfiguring them, using abstraction as a liberating visual force” thus creating what she calls ‘a kind of visual mindfuck…that is ultimately what I want the beholder to experience.’ (Bomb magazine again)
But I felt that the paintings without the up-front graphic formalism were the ones that satisfied me most, for example ‘Black and Blue’ from 2005 and ‘Oread’ from 2011 – the former does have the ubiquitous checkerboard and grid in it but they are subsumed in the painterliness of the blues, blacks and browns. The latter is made of green and black layers with floating shapes, drips and some dots, but again the graphic formalism is not foremost. Both are sensuous, with no depictions or representational images and thus by her definition, beyond design – but had none of the visual aggression or ‘mindfucks’ that she also wants – so by her own standards, they both succeed and fail.
I wished I had the time to go back and revisit the exhibition again because it was very engaging and there was so much to take in, explore and sit with…all in all a playful, paradoxical and thought provoking experience…more please.