Julie Heffernan “Self-Portrait Moving Out,” 2010 (oil on canvas, 54 x 78 inches) (Image Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery)
Walking into 'Boy, O Boy II', the newest show at Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, one could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into a show of period works from a century long past, at least for a moment. The newest works by artist Julie Heffernan, done in a style renaissance and academic in origin but with a contemporary twist, show the artists latest turn in her oeuvre – the introduction of the Boy archetype into her paintings. The emergence of this archetype coincides with the artist’s son preparing to leave home for the first time, thus revealing to us her feelings about this change in their liives through the works. Using this archetype, Heffernan explores the themes of growing up, leaving home, as well as the shifts in cultures over longer periods of time.
Julie Heffernan “Picking Up the Pieces,” 2010 (oil on canvas, 72 x 54 inches) (Image Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery)
The most prominent theme throughout the show is that of the Boy archetype growing up and moving out in to the world, with all that it entails. The journey loosely taken through the paintings byt this archetypal figure is reminiscent of the journey taken by Poliphilo in his dream, with strange landscapes and altered realities with disparate cultural symbols intermixed with each other.
One painting, “Self-Portrait Moving Out,” 2010 (oil on canvas, 54 x 78 inches) is a landscape of a flooded valley with a precarious wooden bridge stretching across it. Over burdening the bridge is a large pile of accumulated objects of indeterminate origin, which are being pulled by two figures as some items fall off the edge. In the water below the bridge one can see the tops of a village coming out of the water and on either side of the top of the gorge are winding paths with the appearance of the Great Wall of China. On the right side we can see a figure pulling a boat loaded with more items towards the bridge. To the left of the bridge are open paths for the journey to continue, however we can see a group of dangerous animals – a loin, an alligator, and a bear – waiting for the next traveler to pass by. The symbology is clear; in going from one stage of life to another one cannot take everything with them and the journey ahead is fraught with perils waiting at every turn.
Julie Hefernan “Intrepid Scout Leader,” 2011 (archival pigment print, museum board, glass jewels, metal fittings, gold leaf, and acrylic handwork, 36 x 27 inches) (Image Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery)
In “Picking Up the Pieces,” 2010 (oil on canvas, 72 x 54 inches) and “Intrepid Scout Leader,” 2011 (archival pigment print, museum board, glass jewels, metal fittings, gold leaf, and acrylic handwork, 36 x 27 inches) we see the dominant compositional structure in this group of paintings. In each there is a large scale figure set into a shallow landscape setting. The figure in both of these has a male body, but the faces are androgynous enough that looking at them alone one could imagine you were looking at a woman and not a boy. In both of these images the figures have large backpacks of loosely woven ropes containing a wide array of objects. The use of the backpack motif is symbolic of the things that we choose to carry with us in life. The fact that it is made of loosely woven ropes also points to the precariousness with which we carry things and that given a bump we can easily loose one forever. The motif appears in other paintings as well, where it metamorphoses into different shapes and meanings.
Ed Osborn “Kingdom,” 2011 (single-channel video, color, stereo sound, 12:15 minutes) (Image Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery)
Also showing in the gallery media room is a video piece by Ed Osborn, entitled “Kingdom,” 2011 (single-channel video, color, stereo sound, 12:15 minutes). The video consists of a constructed view of a sea wall in a of an indeterminate cove or bay, with ghostly figures walking across it. The clarity of the images is slightly out of focus, giving it a dream like feeling. The accompanying audio consists of the sounds of birds, the consistent hum of a vehicle, engine, and a light breeze in the background. Overlaying this is an existential question and answer dialogue in soothing voices between a man and a woman. Their words are spoken with the depth and meaning of poetry, and discuss the passage of time, velocity, and gravity. Video works can take many forms, some inviting, others not. This one is definitely open to inviting the viewer in and allowing them to explore the space it creates and the ideas it openly discusses.