Harmony In Your Head


“It's a harmony in my head.”*

Charlene Von Heyl has a new show at Frederich Petzel. It’s Modern Painting full pelt.

The knowledgable critic will “read” the references and discern the content of the work. The artist can understand the technique, how the paint went down. And the punter can stand back and let the whole thing wash over them, like a stoical penguin.

The Art expert will thrill to her overlapping and interlacing of Contemporary Painting movements — Pattern and Decoration, Post Painterly Abstraction and Neo Geo. There are obvious comparisons to artists like Peter Schuyff, but i also see Nina Bovasso’s use of comically cute pattern as field and Ellen Birkenblit’s adoption of black to represent both line and shadow and fill. And how she lets all three co mingle in her painting.

Occasionally Charlene Von Heyl is everyone all at the same time.

Each of these styles requires different techniques. Von Heyl knows all of them. She uses masks to create areas of flat against organic movement. She has a groovy, loaded black brush line that can be tears and a telephone and the outline of an unraveling laurel wreath. It’s so New York to make something technically difficult look so easy. In the phone painting in particular a cloud of completely dissipated oily pink flesh hovers over it. It looks like a dollop of Francis Bacon sizzling in the pan.


For the “washed over” there are many pleasures. Unexpected colors, breaks and repetitions. Scratchings, scribblings, scuffs, hardline, drips, printed paint-gesture, spray can lines and what looks like a potato print.

I used to wonder if non-representational art was meaningful to people who did not know their “art” who’s who. But I’ve been co-curating a Facebook page called “Involuntary Painting” with the poet/artist Paul Conneally for a number of years. It’s about seeing painterly events in the most random surfaces. Apparently a lot of people all over the world love abstract art and see it everywhere they look.

This show says Abstraction is for everyone! It’s for “the Swots and the Blots”**. It’s jam filled with references to other art and at the same time has an every-people feel. Like the wall of a rundown lot that got half painted, postered and tagged. At the same time it can read like a mashed up version of one of those history of punk maps where you can see who influenced who.

To bowdlerize St Paul:

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of (Modern Abstract Painting) that I may share in its blessings.”

1 Corinthians 9. 19. 23 (partly)

*“Harmony in my Head” - The Buzzcocks

**The Swots and the Blots Leo Baxendale’s UK comic strip about the smart kids and the dumb (but cool) kids at school.

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