"Straight lines can indicate restraint, a barrier, or an edge, they can also indicate a way up and out, like a rope to cling to when you’re in trouble in the sea. Stained glass is full of horizons: solid abstractions call to mind the aerial shots of deserts, aspirations are encouraged by the sky."
Mary Heilmann (b.1940, California) Julia Rommel (b. 1980, Maryland), and Nathlie Provosty (b. 1981, Ohio) share many concerns in their studio led painting practices. Although a generation apart, these three female painters are all based in New York City and are tied together by their considered, yet challenging approach to the accepted norms of abstraction within the painting canon. In their shared minimal style, they are artists who use abstract colour fields and impressionistic marks to evoke mood, landscape, and the condition of light.
Julia Rommel, similarly to Heilmann, also insists on the objecthood of her paintings, seeing her work as a cross between painting and relief. Equally, they act as rigorous yet playful investigations into colour, creating works that are objective, but always loosely associative with the landscape. Nathlie Provosty paintings are also primarily concerned with materiality and perception, using a subtle and blended oil palette to subtly evoke the physical interaction of atmospheric light and the environment, while also creating images with ambitious spatial shifts.
New York City is synonymous with a seminal history of female abstract painters, with attention recently drawn in the art world to post-war artists including Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchel, and Helen Frankenthaler. In both Mary Heilmann and the next generation of Julia Rommel and Nathlie Provosty, we see this lineage connect to the present day.
SONGS IN SILENT ROOMS
These are paintings which disarms you with their directness as they delight in their contrariness. Hot colurs hint at somewhere shadowed and cool: the quick paint can be slow and luxurious as silk. Hard lines wobble; pristine surfaces welcome drips and stains. This relaxed approach to geometry tickers the idea of a serious minimalism like a smart child tickles a beloved father. They remind you; there is no such thing as pure abstraction. Everything is part of the physical world.
How can geometric abstraction, which at this point in time is so familiar to us, be so fresh? In some ways Mary Heilmann is like a still-life painter, approaching her subject matter like earlier artists painted rotting fruit - taking what is familiar and re-presenting it with a sly twist so that you can look anew. This is one of the great paradoxes of painting; you can describe everything but the element that prompts a sense of startled recognition as if you have been waiting to see this exact combination for a long time. (But then, the earth repeats itself, shifts inside the sea, beneath roads, beneath the sky. Everything melts and intersects: the distance inside your head, the energy in the air.)
Straight lines can indicate restraint, a barrier, or an edge, they can also indicate a way up and out, like a rope to cling to when you’re in trouble in the sea. Stained glass is full of horizons: solid abstractions call to mind the aerial shots of deserts, aspirations are encouraged by the sky. Everyday someone in a room gazes out of a window and sees an infinity shaped by a grid. Light doesn’t - and can’t - mean anything (it is what it is) but it’s as necessary as the idea of heave, even if you don’t believe in God.