Monday, January 16, 2006

Artist of the Week 01/16/06

Karen Heagle's work tends to remind me of going home for the holidays from the big city. Particularly Thanksgiving, when in our mid-Western town, everyone's dressed in flannel, every home is decorated in warm and hearty earth tones, and there's an underlying--unspoken, yet virtually visible--tension that's one part about sexual taboos, one part a clash of generational values, and one part a clash of cultural ideology. We've shared stories about our childhoods, and Karen's was a bit more rural than mine, but compared with living in New York, we come from the same place.

The first paintings I had ever seen of Karen's were the from her "Xena Warrior Princess" series. At the time I thought the exploration they represented was fun and perhaps culturally daring (it's tough as a gay person surrounded by the icons and corresponding codes and narratives to know what will strike straight audiences as "scandalous" or whatever) but, for me at that time at least, they seemed rather campy (none the least because of their German Expressionistic overtones). Not that there's anything wrong with that:

Karen Heagle, two paintings from "The Legend of Xena" series, circa 1999(?). (I apologize for the quality of these images and lack of accurate information...the paintings are truly gorgeous in real life, but these were the only images I could get my googling/photoshopping mitts on.)

In watching Karen's work develop over the years though, I've gained a new-found admiration for that earlier work, which I've realized---partly from talking more with her and partly from the press release from her 2001 solo exhibition at Brooklyn's most rockin' gallery, 31 Grand---deals with "the erotic connection between everyday life and science fiction comics." From that exhibition's press release:
Heagle mines her Midwestern roots, and flights of fancy into her paintings of popular culture icons and farmland settings. To quote [Dorothy] Allison [whose in 1985 essay, "Puritans, Perverts and Feminists." inspired these works] , "Most sexual imagery does not have one interpretation but a range of multilevel impacts depending on context, personal taste, and hidden symbolism". Karen Heagle finds her own meaning in the already familiar faces of AJ from the Backstreet Boys, Chyna from WWF, and the animals and farm machinery from her childhood.
Karen is currently represented in New York by I-20 Gallery, where she has a solo exhibition opening on January 28th. We've been talking about another studio visit for a year now it seems, but judging from the images on the gallery's website, her most recent work still deals with erotic imagery, mid-Western values, and celebrity. But she's taking on art history more directly now as well:

Karen Heagle, Bather (after Magritte), 2005, Oil on panel, 66" x 61" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).

As well as referencing the celebrity of the current art scene:

Karen Heagle, Andy Goldsworthy, 2004, Acrylic on paper, 41" x 56" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).

All the while maintaining a luxurious senusality:

Karen Heagle, Low Tide At Rialto Beach 4 (Entagled Starfish), 2005, Oil on panel, 40" x 52" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).

I'm delighted by the new series, I must say. They're smart, mature, and clearly painted by an artist more confident in her skills and her analysis of the subject matter. And, best of all perhaps, they can still remind me of Thanksgiving:

Karen Heagle, Turkey, 2005, Oil on panel, 50" x 47" (image from I-20 Gallery's website).


Anonymous jen said...

There is something about that thrift store painting aesthetic that I am attracted to. It must be the nostalgia...

1/17/2006 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous pc said...

It's hard to tell if they are beautifully painted, but I'm happy to take Edward's word for it. I think they might remind me of Manet if I saw them in person. About the content: Isn't nostagia one of the easier emotions to convey in painting?

1/17/2006 10:33:00 AM  
Anonymous pc said...

I take it back. Rereading Edward's post, I see that there's more than just nostagia happening. Mixing sex in makes it much more interesting and strange.

1/17/2006 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous jen d said...

I love karen and her work and am so happy to see them here. They are in fact beautifully painted & she has an unusual technique. They are lush and thin at the same time. I love their mix of sexual identity/celebrity worship/fantasy/self-doubt. They are so much more interesting to me than elizabeth peyton's imho (whose work I realize I could also be describing), because not everyone is beautiful, not everyone is painted the same way, and also because of the the anxiety and self-doubt that comes through. I like elizabeth peyton's work a lot, but Karen's is more thrilling to me, perhaps also because they're more explicit.

1/17/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous pc said...

Okay, jen d, I'm persuaded. Now I'd like to see the ptgs in person.

1/17/2006 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger fairy butler said...

I can't wait to see this. The "low tide" painting is incredible.

1/17/2006 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Painter said...

I loved her last show at 31Grand.

1/17/2006 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Usually Edward's comments make me see something I didn't see before....this, time, I'm looking + looking, and don't see anything resembling his comments. Sorry, this one is too [fill in the blank] for me.

1/17/2006 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love heagle's work and have been wathcing it develop for years. This show should get her the audience she deserves. She is a rare, kooky, inventive, singular, serious artist.

1/17/2006 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Edna said...

Karen is a wonderful person and a really fun painter. Best of luck on your upcoming show!

Ciao baby

1/17/2006 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous steven baker said...

the first painting illustrated looks like something marsden hartley might of thown out. the rest, pick the artist they remind you of....picabia etc.

1/17/2006 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

pick the artist they remind you of....picabia etc.

Again, I've yet to see the artist I cannot do that with...and, again, I've yet to understand why that's a point people feel compelled to make in this context.

I mean, if you actually name the artists, that's one thing...but the off-hand assertion that her work reminds you of someone else's ... I'm not at all sure what that is designed to prove. Any association with Picabia seems a bit too generic to mention (but, OK, fair enough), but the "etc." seems to suggest you've seen it all, so, again, why condescend to comment at all?

I don't get it.

1/17/2006 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Think of what Tyler said.

1/17/2006 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Actually, Edward, Steven Baker is better informed than the rest of us. Therefore, we're unfit to contradict him, even if he won't deign to supply names. That's just the way it is. ;)

I was unfamiliar with Karen's work. Thanks for the introduction. I can't say I love all of it, but some are really quite stunning, at least in reproduction...which is increasingly all I get to see!

1/18/2006 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't know Steven, HH, so I won't pass judgement that quickly.

I did respond rather sharply, and I don't want to suggest only praise is appropriate in response to these posts. I guess though, because often the artist ends up reading the comments, I do want folks to put a little effort into saying "who" the work reminds them of if that seems important enough to mention. I mean, if you're gonna critique it, at least give the artist some constructive criticism. "etc." is a throw away comment.

1/18/2006 03:28:00 PM  

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