Best of 2011: Julie Heffernan at Catharine Clark Gallery

A famous art critic (true story) waiting for light in front of Delacroix’s Jacob and the Angel in St. Sulpice Chapel offered to me that his favorite painter was neither Delacroix nor Poussin but Fragonard, who along with Francois Boucher and Antoine Watteau made up that  triumvirate of the lush detail. In monarchist France, a girl in a swirl of peach satin kicks her mule off the escarpolette (swing) at one suitor, while another steadies her ropes. It is not only the perfect garden stage but the site of amours plural. Even the stone putti dimple and wink amorously. Such were the  flighty romances of  pre-French Revolutionary idylls, long before J.L. David did the Death of Marat in far starker light, or the same Delacroix bared liberty’s breast as she strode over a carpet of political casualties.

What any of this has to do with artist Julie Heffernan (whom Wikipedia defines as illustrator Julie Heffernan) is: A lot. She like a Tina Barney in paint, with a Boschian notion of the chambers of the inner life, presents her pictorial scenemaking with such unhazy momentousness, and detail, it suggests rococo styling. And yet. Yet all the diffuse and tumultuous contemporary manners of divorce, bombs in the living room, disillusion by headline, also can exist in a single plane. The light shows that Julie Heffernan puts on, picture “explosives” netted below ornate crystal chandeliers, are those of a brilliant painter whose contemporary mores of the tableau deal in what else I learned on Wikipedia: She’s married to a theater critic, and clearly indulging after those work-a-night Broadway productions her interior taste for the theatrical cabinet of curiosities – symbolists parading in lush 18th-century armature, and meeting up with the shade of John Curran (if he actually wished he were John Constable on acid). These lush and fantastic works, give a prolonged experience of wow, behold.


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