julie-heffernan-portrait Julie Heffernan Read the full artist interview

Julie Heffernan’s paintings are guided by the pictures that visit her between sleep and waking. And like the pensive, cautionary nature-boys in her new paintings, Heffernan cobbles together tokens and symbols to create a natural world as beautiful as it is gentle.

David Cohen, art critic of The New York Sun, describes Julie Heffernan’s paintings as “a hybrid of genres and styles, mixing allegory, portraiture, history painting, and still life, while in title they are all presented as self portraits.” The American painter uses self-portraits and a mix of history, art and high fashion to offer the viewer a wealth of visual entertainment. But her 2007 series, called Booty, is by far the most intriguing. In this colorful collection of portraits, the artist presents herself draped in pompous dresses made of dead animal carcasses, flowers and fruits. Like Heffernan’s other art series, these bizarre-yet-beautiful paintings are a constant dilemma between the gorgeous and the grotesque, attraction and repulsion.

Heffernan’s exhibition ‘Boy, O Boy’ is the first that shows her using male models in her paintings. The collection is as fantastical, whimsical and encapsulating as her usual compositions, but instead of the women who usually stand embellished, their dresses worlds in themselves, we have simple boys with all the embellishment surrounding. There is something restrained in this which allows these figures to possess an innocence, a sense of discovery, of entering a brave new world where surroundings are new and exciting. Indeed these environments are marriages of an imagined and changing future, with figures carrying pieces of historical treasure from the past — backpacks of paintings, books, apples, stamps, not what we might necessarily expect to take from our world to the next. For though the idea behind her paintings is to look to the new, there is an inherent intention to return to what is natural, historical and imaginatively creative; her paintings are filled with curling woodland, ornate spires of turrets, foliage and a desire to leave the current world behind. More like illustration, Heffernan’s work is intricately absorbing with its attention to detail, and story-like because of it; symbolic, her compositions unfold quietly to tell us a tale.

Julie Heffernan was born in 1956 and received her MFA from Yale University. She has had numerous one-person exhibitions around the country and has shown internationally. She has received a Lila Acheson Wallace award, New York Foundation for the Arts award, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Fulbright-Hayes Grant. She is the program head of the BFA in Studio at Montclair State University. All images © copyright the artist, all rights reserved.

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