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Mary Heilmann - The rightness of being

As I was looking at this marvelous show of Mary Heilmann at Hauser Wirth, the voice of my then 6-year old niece came to mind when I served her a simple dish of mushrooms and beans: “It’s just the way I like them.”

That sums up Mary Heilmann’s paintings for me. There’s humor, joy, psychedelic color dreams, economy of shape and form, great color contrasts, and just an utter humming “rightness” in her work. It’s as though she’s daringly whittled down how little is enough to be just right. And not one brush stroke or form more.

Her work slows you down and makes you consider its every detail, its artistic choice and ponder its meaning.

A love of the natural world hovered in her delicate diagonal brushwork - as though a soft breeze was wafting through a field of tall grass, stopped with minimal forms delivered by a punch of color and thick paint strokes. Nothing seemed predictable.

As a painter, I used to feel a bit strange about sitting sometimes for hours on end looking at a work in progress before making a single stroke — as though I should find the resolve and the imagination to proceed (and blindly trust the process). But after looking at Mary Heilmann’s work I think she works slowly too, and is generous with her time seeing before painting because she just wants to get it right - the first time.

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