Charline von Heyl at Petzel Gallery

What is most striking about the fourteen new works by the painter Charline von Heyl on view at Petzel Gallery is their gestural energy and boldness. Each large canvas—the artist is fairly consistent in the sizing of her paintings—draws from the roots of abstraction, but with elements that border on figuration. In many, the features of faces can be seen floating among her compositions, such as disembodied eyes, mouths, and cephalic outlines. The knowledge that the artist suffers from prosopagnosia, or face blindness, makes the detached features even more intriguing, drawing viewers into an enigmatic realm occupied by swirling shapes, patterns, and fragmentary imagery. - Nadiah Fellah, NYC Contributor

Charline von Heyl | Installation view, Petzel Gallery

Charline von Heyl | Blacksmile, 2013, Oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 82 x 78 inches

A painter originally from Germany, von Heyl was inspired at a young age by the paintings of Jörg Immendorff, Albert Oehlen, and Martin Kippenberger, drawing from them what she calls an “anarchistic approach to painting.” Artists who pushed the boundaries of the painting medium, von Heyl has continued much in their tradition, playing off of art historical precedents by turning them on their head or radically shifting their meanings.

Charline von Heyl | Carlotta, 2013, Oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 82 x 76 inches

In a work titled Done Got Old, von Heyl has painted a large cartoonish paintbrush, hovering over a Miro-esque abstract composition. The title playfully evokes the age-old question posed to artists: “How do you know when a work is done?”—a state of being that is highly subjective. In past interviews she has answered this question by stating: “A painting being finished doesn’t mean that it is not open. It is, in fact, only finished when it is a different painting to different people—when it changes every time you look at it.”

Charline von Heyl | Done Got Old, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 78.5 x 82 inches

The loose, gestural abstractions of her canvasses are also balanced with a degree of restraint. Neat, orderly lines confine passages of abandon, and sometimes form a background of regularized patterns, almost like wallpaper, built in by the artist. This tendency can be seen in works such as Skull and Slow Tramp.

Charline von Heyl | Skull, 2012, Acrylic, oil, charcoal, and dry pigments on canvas, 82 x 74 inches

Charline von Heyl | Slow Tramp, 2012, Oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 82 x 72 inches

Other works are less methodical, bordering on a graffiti aesthetic that falls somewhere closer to the paintings of fellow artist and von Heyl’s husband, Christopher Wool.

Charline von Heyl | Jakealoo, 2012, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 82 x 74 inches

Von Heyl also plays with texture on her surfaces, incorporating large areas of charcoal that become matte, light-absorbing blocks, interacting dynamically with the neon colors in other areas, or with the nearly diaphanous passages, formed by thinned and dripped paint. The combination of these elements deftly adds depth to her paintings, without the traditional shading of forms that is so often used in figuration. 

Charline von Heyl | Night Doctor, 2013, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 82.5 x 68 inches

Above all, the aggregate effect of von Heyl’s paintings is a powerful one. Not only does her practice represent diversity and ability, but her paintings also display a rebelliousness and humor that makes her work ever engaging.

Charline von Heyl | Big Zipper, 2011, acrylic and oil on canvas, 86 x 78 inches

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Charline von Heyl (b. 1960) is originally from Bonn, Germany, and lives and works in New York and Marfa, Texas. She has had numerous shows in the US and internationally, including solo shows at The Tate, Liverpool; the ICA, Philadelphia; and the ICA, Boston.

Charline von Heyl’s exhibition at Petzel Gallery in New York is on view through October 5th.

Nadiah Fellah is a graduate student of art history at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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