Further Thoughts on Charline von Heyl
Through February 19, 2012
By Daniel Gerwin
The following observations were inspired by repeated visits to von Heyl’s mid-career retrospective and by a conversation between von Heyl and Kaja Silverman that took place at the ICA on February 9. Daniel’s previous review can be read here. This is the final week of the exhibit.
While speaking with Kaja Silverman, Charline von Heyl commented on the inadequacy of language to feelings, and to existence in general. It seems to me that von Heyl’s paintings jump directly into the gap between language and experience, a zone that words cannot fully penetrate or exhaust. How does her work so successfully and insistently occupy this territory?
The answer may lie in the nature of her paintings’ address to the viewer. Von Heyl’s canvases function in a manner opposite to the “window” of traditional painting. For centuries, painting was illusionistic and offered an experience similar to looking through a window onto a landscape, or into a scene of religious or historical importance. Through 20th century Modernism, paintings also began to function as objects, regardless of what they did or did not picture on their surface. The word “object” does not quite fit Von Heyl’s work because objects are generally passive while her paintings are proactive; they do not wait for the viewer to approach them, they throw the first punch.
Von Heyl’s canvases are all on the scale of the body. They are generally about six to seven feet in either dimension, allowing her to work them from side to side and top to bottom within the reach of her arms. In the conversation with Silverman, von Heyl pointed out that this allows one to take in the entire painting at once, both in its entirety and in detail. Through their specifically human scale, her works make an immediate physical/relational connection: they are felt in the body before anything can register in the mind. We find ourselves standing in relationship to her paintings, and this corporeal experience allows her work to make an end-run around language’s limitations. We respond to her paintings by feeling them and having feelings about them. It is then up to us to struggle to talk about it.
Daniel Gerwin is a painter living in Philadelphia. His work is currently on view in the exhibit There’s A Place, curated by Sarah McEneaney, at Bucks County Community College from Jan 18 -March 10, 2012. His work can also be seen in the exhibit Introduction 2012, an exhibition of work by new CFEVA Career Development Fellows, at Moore College of Art and Design, from Feb 1-Feb 25.