Garlands of fruits, rendered with softly psychedelic colors; twisted networks of wiry limbs and roots, framed by lush tropical plants, luminous in distant mist; topographical cornucopias of formal gardens, resplendent on the surface of a globe, itself set in a magical walled garden; fruit laced bowers sheltering asexual twins; glowing indoor showers of jeweled raindrops; flaming chandeliers hanging from trompe l’oeil ceilings in baroque drawing rooms, an adolescent boy lifting a folded carpet of landscape amid a netting of captured momentos; and a rope mesh dress with flowing skirts made of small game animals and fruits; these are some of the lushly painted items, signs and symbols that make up Julie Heffernan’s “Self Portraits”.
The Illinois born, Brooklyn based artist names many of her works as such, “Self Portrait as Big World”, “Self Portrait as Broken Home”, “Self Portrait as Animal Bed” and “Self Portrait as Fabulous Droppings”; others are part of a sequence with more direct names, “Tender Trapper”, “Boy in Flight” and “Budding Boy”; but the sense of enigma, hidden meaning waiting to be sought out, and the elaborate Baroque meets Magic Realism detail of her compositions is common to all.
Heffernan’s paintings carry echoes of the Early Renaissance, Botecelli, Bruegel and Bosch, along with the more overt stylings of 17th Century Baroque painting and the profusion of shapes, colors and patterns with which the Baroque style gave meaning to our contemporary use of the word.
These are mixed with the dream state juxtapositions of the Surrealists, by which I don’t so much mean Dali and Magriette, as Ernst, Tanning and Tanguy; and the intensely chromatic rendering of contemporary Magic Realism. All of these affections and influences are assembled and woven into a dense and intricate tapestry of styles that becomes uniquely her expression, and by extension, her self portrait within her self portraits.
Heffernan studied at the University of California, Santa Cruz and received her MFA in painting and printmaking at the Yale School of Art and Architecture. She is an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. She delivered this year’s commencement address at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Though the artist doesn’t appear to have a dedicated web presence, you can find her work well represented by several galleries, particularly the P-P-O-W Gallery in New York (also here). There is a post on Escape Into Life that features several works large enough to get a quick overview (more here). There is a brief interview with Heffernan on ArtSlant.
Quoted in an article on Montclair State University Insight Online, Heffernan says she seeks out her imagery in the semi-waking state on the edge of sleep in a process she calls “image streaming”. In this she shares some of the true intentions of the Surrealists, who were most interested in inspiration from dreams and the unconscious mind.
(Painting titles above: “Budding Boy”, “Self Portrait as Big World”, “Boy in Flight”, “Self Portrait as Booty”)