Intricacy and innocence blend in brightly painted 'parrot' works


August 08, 1991|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

At first or even second glance, Judy Heimann's painted wooden constructions look like naive art. Jaggedly cut pieces of wood, combined with picture or window frames, slapped together and splashed with bright paint, they appear to be done with more energy and enthusiasm than ingenuity. And indeed previous Heimann works have been compared to art brut, or outsider art that springs spontaneously from untrained people often existing on the fringes of society.

The impression is only strengthened by her own description of her current series at Knight Gomez (through Aug. 31) as depicting a jungle environment based on a stuffed parrot and memories of childhood play. Furthermore, the repeated parrot motif, and the other animals, plants and people in these works have an awkward charm that might have come from the pages of a child's drawing book.

But keep on looking, and more and more sophistication will be seen to inhabit these works; in fact, it is the combination of wide-eyed innocence on the surface together with a very carefully worked out underlying plan that makes the best of them as successful as they are.

Compositions can be extremely traditional, with shapes and/or colors forming the classic pyramid or circle that carries the eye around the picture and back to the starting point. This can be noticeable three-dimensionally as well as two-dimensionally, particularly in "Preston: 'It is a Tale Told by a Parrot Full of Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing,' " in which the mushroom shape closest to the viewer complements the wave shape at the back.

Elsewhere, in "Preston: 'Primitive Parrot,' " a core color, red, anchors the piece vertically and horizontally, while another color, blue, circles around, creating a tension between fluid and solid, motion and stasis.

There are numerous references to 20th century art -- primitivism, cubism, surrealism, collage. Then, too, there are more particular references to both art and society: A disembodied leg in "Preston: 'Primitive Parrot' " oddly recalls Picasso's "Guernica" while at the same time looking like it comes from an elegant seated woman with her legs crossed at the ankle. In one corner of "Preston: 'I Was Entertained on Madagascar, by Two Lovely Lemurs' " there is a turquoise, kidney-shaped pool with a sunbather beside it.

All of this is not to say that Heimann's work is desiccatedly derivative. When she succeeds -- as in "Preston: 'Primitive Parrot' " and "Preston: 'It Is a Tale . . .' " and elsewhere, she does so by pulling her combinations of naivete and sophistication, originality and reference, into works that reveal another pair of opposites -- almost crude strength and childlike charm. In other works there is too much sprawl or jumble and not enough coherence. Heimann is not as consistent as she might be; she hits and misses here, but she hits most of the time.

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