Women have always been inventors within their crafts. Over centuries, we’ve developed and grown from the resources we had and made them something special. As I made paintings from a young age to a more professional direction at Pratt, I was drawn to the work of women artists before me and the imagery created out of our history.
Folk art and paintings built from myth have fascinated me, and there’s a certain symbolism to the images wrought from the feminine works of these genres. Julie Heffernan has been an idol of mine in this department of art making for several years. Recently I’ve been exploring my own narrative through the symbolism of Slavic folklore and the American South, in a manner that draws from similar ideas that Heffernan expresses. As a contemporary painter, she works with self-portraits and historic symbolism in surreal narrative styles with vivid and saturated tones.
I had the incredible opportunity to be critiqued by Heffernan for my Senior Survey. It was a surreal experience to admire someone from afar, then encounter them as a mentor in a critique setting. Her work with the feminine realm and how it allows women to interact with their surreal surroundings is something that inspires my own approach and made it even more special to hear her take on my work face-to-face.
The critique began with an exploration of language. A painter develops their personal language through symbols and techniques within a painting. I use a wide range of symbols depicted with flat color like old houses, witch-like women, and hissing snakes. Heffernan took her time looking over them before she emphasized the importance of a symbol and its representations. She was particularly drawn to the repeated image of a black pond that appears within my paintings and pushed me to delve deeper into that representation.
Two of my paintings use oversized embroidery hoops to frame a section of the painting while allowing the rest to hang beneath it. Heffernan was interested by the idea of the body proportion shape of the hoop and explained to me its connection to a priestly church vestment. This connection, which had never appeared to me before, seemed to want even more embellishment and adornment than my paintings previously held. It inspired me to reach for more intricate fabrics and more pattern heavy painted areas like the intricate details of the garments she alluded to.
After my critique, I felt driven to make something clearer, stronger, and lavish with adornment. Heffernan pushed to expand my patterns and symbols until they overwhelm the paintings, then step back and allow them to breathe. While most critiques provide a burst of inspiration, this one felt particularly moving to me; an artist I respected gave me their professional opinion, suggestions, and interests, and that propelled me to work harder for what I desire. In the grander scheme of working as a woman artist, Heffernan’s critique was even more special to me, and represented a future that held promise.
Artwork by Mallory Pearson