Memory is a useful faculty in a painter’s toolbox. It can be used to conjure the color of an emotion or deployed in the pursuit of perspective. It is the mind’s Instagram filter, tinting the images of our past. In the case of Washington-based artist Andrea Joyce Heimer, whose new exhibit, A Jealous Person, is currently on view at Hometown Gallery in Brooklyn (her first New York solo exhibition), memory is wielded as a powerful device for navigating neuroses borne of a set of formative experiences worthy of the Tenenbaum family, and with an equally pleasing palette to boot.
Take, for instance, My Sister’s Bush Was Glorious And Full And The Color Of Campfire Flames While Mine, Still Struggling Through Puberty, Was Patchy And Mousy And In Her Presence I Felt Like An Unfinished Drawing. Painted in pastel acrylic hues, the piece is a topsy turvy mise-en-scene of the Heimer family home. Here we have Andrea, struggling with self-confidence as she stares naked at her reflection in a bathroom, whilst downstairs her sister poses nude aloft the dinner table looking like one of Picasso’s young ladies of Avignon. The painting affords us one of several windows into Heimer’s history, a world infused with candor and wit. For certain viewers, it might offer something even more powerful — a mirror.
That strong sense of self-reflection was struck in a scene rendered in rich, earthy tones. Titled—they really do bear repeating—Since I Was 17 And Even Now So Many People I Know Travel To The Desert To Lose Themselves In Smoke And Drugs And Magic Plants And They Come Back With Wild Wild Stories And A Wilder Sense Of Themselves But I Can Never Join Them Because I Am Nervous By Nature, the piece captures the very essence of an experience that has eluded its own creator. There are bongs and frolicking beasts (both of the human and animal variety), splayed amidst cacti, pattern-like. Yet another interesting facet of memory has been revealed: in the end it is a story we tell ourselves, and with a healthy enough imagination, need not have even ever taken place; or, in the case of On The Ranch I Remember Squatting In The Bushes And Watching The Farmhands Piss In The Pond, And Ever Since I’ve Envied The Bravado Of Boys And Bulls, vividly recalled, courtesy of a painted point of view.
These memories of course would be nothing without observation. It’s this ability that allows Heimer to lovingly imbue her work with such delicate details from the past, and it is this same steely sight that is the source for much of Heimer’s inspiration. Such is the case with her scene hunched over geriatrics pottering around tree stalks in an orchard, while in another row, children lie and tumble on the ground. Betwixt these age groups, several other pairs of disembodied legs appear, their owners wandering lost amidst foliage. Appropriately, this one is called I Envy Both The Very Young And The Very Old Because Their Trajectories Seem So Certain, While The Middle Part Of Life Is Full Of Dangerous Paths.
In another crowd-pleaser of a painting, Heimer has kicked her imagination into full throttle with her rendering of a room full of her partner’s naked ex-lovers. I Am Jealous Of Everyone You Have Ever Been With And There Have Been Many, And Then I Find Out Some Of Them Were Squirters And I Am Undone By This Knowledge. It Weighs On Me Like A Stone, Heimer confesses, once again sharing her innermost vulnerabilities. The question, though, is to what end?
Depending on your bent, these are sentiments we can all endorse. Which is the point of the show. Envy, the primary emotion we’re dealing with here, is like an asshole — we all have it. By zeroing in and portraying these deep seated anxieties and complexes with a healthy dose of humor, Heimer’s paintings are intended to help us all heal. You can practically hear them shout, “I’m a bit fucked up. So are you maybe, and you know what, that’s OK.”
Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He is a recent graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at NYU