Julie Heffernan

Article excerpt

PETER MILLER GALLERY

Julie Heffernan provides precisely the kind of thing one might expect from fin-demillennium painting (though it's pretty rarely found): a mannered, even claustrophobic engagement with canonical Western art practice. In her canvases, though, the heart of that canon is subtly undercut and oddly deflated, producing neither parody nor homage but a new and fully realized incarnation of honored artistic territories. In her paintings, easily recognizable historical prototypes--in the recent show, they included the likes of Velazquez, Mantegna, Lorenzo Lotto, Dosso Dossi, and Piero di Cosimo--rise again, but twisted and rendered dumb.

Heffernan performs much of this coyly treasonous borrowing by determinedly assigning all pictorial authority to herself. The phrase "self-portrait" appears in the titles of six of the seven large canvases on view, and her own features and nude body--whether stylized, gender-bent, or rendered perversely infantile--are presented as the iconic and compositional center of each image. With eyes staring fixedly and directly at the viewer, her ubiquitous presence turns these paintings into an exotic theater of the multiplicity of self as seen through the history of art. When Heffernan titles a work Self-Portrait as Infanta Underwater (all works 1999), she pretty much means it, coiffing her hair like some Velazquez princess, standing nude and half submerged in a transparent pool set into a dark wood, awash with floating apples and aqueous undergrowth. This painting, like all her work, seems rampantly allegorical, but at the same time the artist does not appear overly concerned with whether the allegory is legible. T he body of the protagonist is surrounded here, as in other works, by a riotous infinity of flora and fauna, which range from tense dogs and wriggly snakes to highly decorated garlands and symmetrical tropical landscapes. …