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Julie Heffernan's Artist statement


My work has dealt with the phases of a woman’s life, derived from my own experience over the years: early paintings describe the ripeness of youthful experience with burgeoning fruit and fecund landscapes; while later paintings suggest maturation, with imagery of accumulation and loss. Reared Catholic, I’m inclined to excess, both as a mechanism to describe the richness (and spectacle) of interior experience and as a response to the ethos of minimalism that permeated the male-dominated art world when I began painting in the late 70s.

As an appreciator (and consumer) of some of that powerful imagery from my childhood, I’m interested in how the culture I was born into has developed a shared collective unconscious through all the subliminal imagery we encounter as children and that has been accumulating in our mental landscapes over a lifetime. That vast trove of imagery, from Old Master paintings to film stills to porn imagery, has worked on us our whole lives – telling us stories, scaring us, titillating us, even modifying our behavior -- to define and shape who we are at this particular moment in history.

Presently, I am working with the concept of memory as it is captured in that kind of powerful, shared imagery that undergirds our experience of culture and its relationship to history. A central female figure bears (and bares) scrolls, the imagery on the scrolls revealing fragmented moments from history and mass media. On the one side we see moments from Old Master paintings; and, on the other, journalistic and filmic accounts of human and animal rights abuses. The festoonery of the scrolls curling down onto the floor and around her feet suggest the twisting and twisted nature of how we experience that onslaught of imagery that makes up our culture. These fragments and the tendrilling of the scrolls also suggest slippage, the disconnect that occurs when canonical imagery that purports to tell a tale of “truth” butts up against accounts of so-called reality as understood through the media. These two-sided scrolls tell a double-sided story about history as not only “one damn thing after another,“ but also the sugar coating of tales of abuse (as in images of Manifest Destiny, or when Old Master paintings conflate rapes with abductions), and the flipside of that experience as evinced by imagery that glorifies abuse, like pornography, trophy photographs of hunters with their kill and the variety of titillating violent imagery that permeates mass media.

Female figures as bearers of culture have permeated human history, from the caryatids of ancient Greece holding up temples, to Roman depictions of Themis as Justitia, to 19th century Beaux Artes statues of Woman as Virtue. The nude central figure in my paintings gives a nod to the trope of Woman as keeper of tradition, but here she is not idealized: her gaze is outer directed, confronting the viewer and inviting engagement in the events she presides over. Behind her is a portrait gallery of great women who took on power structures and, by their activism, either sowed the seeds of or wrought great changes in the world, women like Rachel Carson, Anita Hill, Jane Goodall, Julia Butterfly Hill, Tarana Burke and many more. And it is possible the central figure in the paintings is the actual painter of those portraits, since paint buckets and brushes lie on the floor next to her.

Finally, I invoke the ur-scroll of Carolee Schneemann‘s Interior Monologue performance piece from 1975 in these paintings, as well as the #MeToo movement for giving voices to women who have been silenced for too many years by the dominant culture. In these paintings I honor women.

Cited with permission from

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