At the Whitechapel Gallery in 2016, many thoughts rushed through my mind the first time I saw the painting ‘Crashing Wave (2011)’ by Mary Heilmann. As I looked at the painting it evoked a special moment. I remember being out on my body board on Manly beach, Australia, at complete peace with my surroundings. The air was crisp, and the sun was bright as I pitched forward. I kicked with my flippers while paddling hard with my hands as I took off down into a crystal clear barrel wave. I rode the perfect wave, a foaming mass of white water. The ultimate experience!
It was a weird feeling being out in the sea, which strangely had surprising similarities to painting in a studio. There is the same solitude in painting when you’re standing with a brush in front of a canvas. You’re in apparently harmless water, but there is the feeling that if you’re not alert, like one wrong move at the peak of the wave, you could end up scrambling to stay on the surface. The consequence being that you could get thrown around and washed out. Mental and physically rejected back on the beach or in front of a failed canvas.
Related posts; The ultimate experience – Crashing Wave by Mary Heilmann
Mary Heilmann’s unforgettable painting combines subject with spills and accidents, runs and washes, that are akin to nature. Although Hellmann only witnessed surfing as a spectator sport, she has captured its impression in the surface energy of her painting. Using a geometric structure, Mary invites you to have an aesthetic experience. A remarkable vibrant experience that is enthralling, leaving the feeling that reality has been refreshed.
Mary highlights the need to be at one with what you are doing. One mistake and it’s over. In both situations, you can spend a lot of time thinking and waiting for the right moment; the right wave or inspiration to get started. Hoping for the world to move through you. Undisturbed by turmoil and disorder. Aiming for a placid stream of serenity where things come together in the stillness. When you are in tune with that stillness, incline your mind towards a majestic moment. Confronting the sharpness of life as you harness nature and ride the wave of an idea back to shore.
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As Mary Heilmann says, “Each of my pictures can be seen as an autobiographical marker. A cue by which I evoke a moment from my past or my projected future. Each a charm to conjure a mental reality and to give it physical form.”
Mary Heilmann was born in 1940 in California. As a student, she trained as a ceramicist and a sculptor. After trying to complete in an all-male environment in both these fields she struggled to get any attention. Then Heilmann decided to paint. She had her first show in New York in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of American Art after moving to New York in 1968.