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Terry R. Myers

For Mary Heilmann


Los Angeles, July 2007

Dear Mary,

Have I told you lately how much I love your work? Walking through your retrospective exhibition in Orange County during the opening in May was an experience I will never forget. It was—as you said—like a family reunion. Lush with works from the past forty years, many of which had never met before, the show’s first venue was more than perfect because it brought everything together near the Pacific which has always been a primary, if not primal, source of inspiration and imagery for you. (No New York painter has ever been as unapologetically Californian.) And, like any family, if not all of its members get along during this triumphant American tour, then so much the better because passionate disagreement reinforces how powerfully complicated real life is, especially when all of its realness presents itself so tangibly in so-called abstraction.
          I’m writing you now because while looking at the assortment of works on paper that you’ve brought together here, it struck me that in many ways they are love letters “written” about—and to—many of the things that have been important to you from the beginning, most of all geometry. “I have always loved the truths of geometry, Euclidean, topological, and the geometry of time.” You wrote that some time ago, your devotion has not wavered. Of course, it’s present in all your work, but this set of colorful correspondences shows us with intimacy and clarity the basic reasons why your abstract yet concrete messages have been so persuasive and well received. Neon Embrace holds close not only simple shapes that prove to be anything but (that thin gray line complicates everything: who’s embracing whom?), but also a black-and-orange coupling tailor-made for the kind of (latenight) excitement that was available in New York circa 1980, and, again, it seems, in 1986, with your sexy Double Kiss. Color is personal and personality in your work. In these works on paper it gives us as much, if not more, than what we could read between the lines of a letter: the joyous release of Psychedelic Serape #4, the perpetual mood swing between The Fall and The Fall Turquoise, the permissive yet “primary” experience of The Kiss (Saturday Nite), the more restrained desire of Garden of Allah #2, and, finally, the black-and-white-and-red-all-over and all-out fluid passion of Half Jack. All of them bring me back to my first time with your work.
          So, truth be told, this isn’t the first love letter that I’ve written you. In Orange County, Johanna Burton told us her story about writing about your work for the first time, doing it as if she were going to send it to you in a letter. She wasn’t alone. When I first saw your work at Pat Hearn’s in 1989, I had the same impulse. Like Johanna, my first review of that show was an anything-but-secret love note. I was immediately taken by the way that your paintings display what I called “necessary activity,” as if they are able to have their own lives made up of critical yet everyday things like work, sex, and love. Completely smitten, my first idea—that the paintings had “jobs”—soon led me to suggest that their “inveiglement” heated up the room and made us leave the gallery breathing hard. By “us,” I meant “me.” After all these years, it’s still the same.

          I love you for that,


TERRY R. MYERS is a writer who was recently named Associate Professor of
Painting and Drawing at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His latest
book is Mary Heilmann: Save the Last Dance for Me (Afterall Books, 2007).

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