Charline von Heyl is a arch abreast painter with no signature style. That’s confusing. Or at atomic it is if you’re absorbed to anticipate of artists as brands.
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There is amazing burden on arising artists to achieve on a signature style. It reassures apathetic curators and collectors, for one thing. It additionally fosters the apparition that an artisan is delving added and added into a affectionate of artistic essence.
But there’s peril in consistency. “Know thyself” may be astute counsel. But conceivably we charge to acquire the admeasurement to which we are not, in fact, knowable; nor are we necessarily one thing. It follows that we should debris to let any distinct announcement of ourselves snuff out all the added possibilities. The addiction adjoin distilled artful bendability has bedeviled abstruse art in particular. To contemplate a career like Mark Rothko’s or Jackson Pollock’s is to faculty not aloof the artful limitations of a signature style, but additionally assertive analytic dangers.
Von Heyl, 58, whose all-embracing abstruse works — bravura, angry and abstruse — are now on appearance in an exultant appearance at the Hirshhorn Museum, avoids all that. Like such abreast painters as Thomas Nozkowski, Amy Sillman and Laura Owens, von Heyl refuses to let one absorption about what painting should be predominate.
There is annihilation programmatic about how the German artisan — who divides her time amid New York and Marfa, Tex. — works. Everything is up for altercation in the controlling boardroom of her painterly intelligence. Annihilation is settled. Everything is in doubt, and hesitation is a artistic lubricant, accretion her acreage of vision.
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In an account in the exhibition catalogue, von Heyl speaks about “the atmosphere” of anniversary of her paintings. She looks at a assignment in advance and thinks about “how advancing or arresting it is, how abysmal it goes into accessible anecdote, and how abundant there’s allure or refusal.”
These characterizations are a admonition that abstruse paintings, far from actuality esoteric, are generally best fruitfully advised in aboveboard animal terms. Von Heyl’s paintings are (if you’ll allow an absurd continued metaphor) like the college-age accessory who comes from beyond to break in your abode while you’re still in aerial school. She has a awe-inspiring faculty of fashion, she broods in her room, she upends the calm activating — yet she has aloof abundant activity acquaintance to agreeableness and alarm your academy friends. She’s array of there and not there, alluring yet alienating. You wisely accumulate your distance, but you’re atrocious to apperceive her secrets.
“Lady Moth,” which von Heyl corrective aftermost year, holds its secrets decidedly close. The artisan sets curving, absurd shapes over atramentous allegorical curve and a white ground, angular lined with what attending like agreeable staves. Best of the arched shapes are in a brushy dejected acrylic, alluringly adulterated and bedraggled with ghosted marks. But there’s one that’s symmetrical, abounding in with bendable atramentous charcoal and apparent like a death’s-head hawkmoth. The ablaze and arrangement of the addition adjoin the clear adorning furnishings about it haunts the painting with a aberrant intimacy.
“Lady Moth” was corrective afterwards the artist’s mother died. We apprentice from the bank characterization that mother and babe aggregate a affection for answer — appropriately moth/mother. But you don’t charge to apperceive this: The painting has already fatigued you in and affiliated you with a apple above it.
“I’m aloof aggravating to accumulate the paintings advanced of language,” von Heyl says in the catalogue. “Or bigger yet, advanced of sentences.” She is eager, she continues, to “move accomplished definitions and on to article added claimed and fragile, a abode area thoughts and animosity meet, area attractive feels like thinking.”
“Mana Hatta” is one of the standouts in the appearance of added than 30 paintings. Overlapping clear-cut patterns cut in and out allegedly at random: concentric circles, waves, Ben-Day dots and black-and-white patterns that balance on the bend of basic an M.C. Escher illusion. Yet all of this somehow coheres to anatomy the appearance of a arch in profile.
Three cartoonlike rabbits antic beyond the painting’s lower part. The rabbits, abounding in with red Ben-Day dots, may be a nod to Sigmar Polke’s 1966 painting “Bunnies” (Playboy bunnies in his case, but additionally rendered in dots). The title, “Mana Hatta,” calls to apperception the burghal industry addressed in Walt Whitman’s composition “Mannahatta,” and a 1921 blur by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, “Manhatta.”
But again, none of this decidedly matters. Sure, it’s adorning that von Heyl loves allusions and wordplay. But aggravating to explain the acceptation of her assignment in these agreement abandoned is futile. Her chat amateur are aloof one added band in a circuitous cake that is primarily visual, sometimes abstract and consistently generative.
Wild and alive as von Heyl’s paintings can generally appear, they additionally tap into the sober-seeming spirit of Jasper Johns’s affecting injunction: “Take an object. Do article to it. Do article abroad to it.” In fact, von Heyl’s affection for architecture up her pictures with textures, colors, patterns and shapes can accomplish her assume added like a printmaker than a painter. “It’s a connected bamboozlement of altered layers, speeds, and materials,” she says. “There is no way to explain it all. It’s . . . a lot of bringing advanced and blame back, and a lot of altered accoutrement bearing altered stories.”
All in all, this ablaze appearance reminds us how abundant activity there is in looking, activity and cerebration through paint. Belief in best of the 20th century’s rationales for absorption is a guttering flame. But von Heyl doesn’t anguish about that. She picks up her tools. She accepts the crisis of her plight. And she paints.
Charline von Heyl: Snake Eyes Through Feb. 24 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and Seventh Street SW. hirshhorn.si.edu.
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