September 12 - October 17, 2015
For Mary Beth Heffernan’s first solo exhibition at Sloan Projects, a dynamic series of unique cyanotype photograms will be on view for the very first time. Comprised of ten large-scale works on paper, Blue, utilizes two early photographic techniques to articulate themes of human intimacy and loss and the myriad ways the dead and the living continue to animate one another. Measuring eight feet tall, the sheer life-size of Heffernan’s photograms captivates from a distance, along with stark white negative spaces that dance distinctively on the paper and lend the work a bold, graphic punch. Upon closer inspection, a tenderness emerges; button-holes, gauzy threads and delicate seams, ghostly crystallizations that arose unpredictably in the printing of the work and subtle variations in blue that accentuate the impression of an endless abyss.
Blue began when Heffernan created a simple sculpture made “by gutting a man’s suit, cut to resemble a limp skeleton, hovering around a dress made of tissue-thin material.” She employed this sculpture as a drawing implement, placing it directly onto light sensitive paper so that its form registered as a negative. This cameraless method of creating a photographic image dates back to the earliest days of the medium and produces results with arresting immediacy and distinctive, refined details that are lacking in prints created with negatives. Combining this method with the cyanotype process, Heffernan has produced a series of images at once sublime and fossil-like while evoking the physicality and dance-like movement of action paintings in their scale and calligraphic force.
The expressive movement essential to Blue comes in part from the grand gestures made by the artist during the production of her work, as well as the performative dynamic between the figures depicted. The skeletal man’s suit and the nebulous dress not only coexist on the paper, they embrace one another, entwine until inseparable, then seem to pass through one another and also break apart. This rhapsody of forms immortalizes a sensual, haunting and complex relationship between two entities, which we witness from the perspective of their mutual absence.
Since the 1990s Heffernan has used a multidisciplinary approach to explore themes of corporeality and its relation to images, words and other representations. In her early photographic works she sculpted flesh to resemble drapery. She has documented memorial tattoos on the skin of Marines returning from the Iraq War. Recently, she intervened in the Ebola crisis by placing headshots of Liberian health care workers on the fronts of their otherwise intimidating hazmat suits. Though Blue diverges in form from her other diversified projects, Heffernan’s underlying desire to investigate human relations, bodies and embodiments is never more evident.
Mary Beth Heffernan earned her BFA at Boston University and her MFA in the Photography Program at California Institute of the Arts. She is currently Associate Professor of Sculpture, Photography and Interdisciplinary Art at Occidental College where she also maintains a studio. Her social practice PPE Portrait Project, which successfully intervened in the recent Ebola crisis, has received critical attention on NPR, PRI, the BBC, and CSNBC. Heffernan was the recipient of the 2010 COLA Individual Artist Fellowship, and her work has been supported by grants from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the Durfee Foundation and Light Work. Her work has been exhibited widely at public and private institutions including the University of the Pacific, Idyllwild Institute of the Arts, Pasadena City College Art Gallery, High Desert Test Sites, LA Municipal Art Gallery, San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, Torrance Art Museum, White Columns and Saide Bronfman Center for the Arts.
Heffernan’s work is included in numerous private and public collections, including the UCLA/Hammer Museum, Light Work of Syracuse, NY, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York City Library.
A limited edition catalog with companion essay by American author Michelle Latiolais will be available in conjunction with this exhibition.