The New York Times describes Heilmann's work as "wildly colorful abstractions that riff with irreverent verve on basic elements of Modernist painting: the grid, the monochromatic rectangle, stripes, organic forms, linear webs, spots, checks, and drips...She makes it look easy and fun...the final picture almost always seems spontaneous, and her lively touch gives her works a sensuous intimacy."
The New Yorker said she is "a formalist impatient with formal consistency" and describes her technique as "Big, fluid strokes often seem to sail, albeit invisibly, into surrounding space. When she does emphasize the edge, it's as if she were observing the arbitrary rules of a rather silly but interesting game."
Heilmann will present Her Life which is a multimedia presentation she said is arranged in a poetic rather than linear narrative tale. "I'd like the people that are watching it to get a feeling for how it felt to be making that work," she said.
Her recent exhibition Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone was at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City.
Heilmann, 68, is a California native who grew up in San Francisco. She received a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1962, and a MA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967. In 1968, Heilmann went to New York City to try to break into the minimalism and post-minimalism art scene dominated by male artists. She came as a woman, a Californian, and a painter and with that she faced challenges from the art establishment.
"She's an inspiration," said Mills College art professor and head of the department Ron Nagle, "She stuck to her guns, got into fights with the art world, but didn't change her style."
Nagle, who knew Heilmann when they were at UC Berkeley together where she originally trained in ceramics, calls Heilmann a "minimalist with a funky edge."
Her colorful, playful, and abstract painted works range from truncated drips of paint to nesting canvases and looping brushstrokes, but she also creates chairs and ceramics.
While her works have been in major galleries and museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim Museum, for more than three decades, their price have only recently escalated with the demand from collectors clamoring for them. In the late 1990s, the Hauser & Wirth gallery in London, which represents her, also began cultivating an audience for her in Europe.
Heilmann's current auction record for a single work is $169,000, set at Sotheby's in May 2008 for The Yellow Blue of the Square Pair, 1976, which sold for $38,4000 only four years earlier. However, 303 Gallery in New York, which also represents Heilmann, said her large paintings sell for about $300,000.
Each year the Mills College Art Department sponsors a practicing artist for the Correnah Wright lecture. The annual event gives graduate studio art students access to some of the top artists in the country. More information about this selective art program is available at www.mills.edu/art.
Nestled in the foothills of Oakland, California, Mills College is a nationally renowned, independent liberal arts college offering a dynamic progressive education that fosters leadership, social responsibility, and creativity to approximately 950 undergraduate women and 500 graduate women and men. Since 2000, applications to Mills College have more than doubled. The College is one of the top colleges in the West by U.S. News & World Report, one of the Best 368 Colleges by the Princeton Review, and ranks 75th among America's best colleges by Forbes.com. Visit us at www.mills.edu.