Selected works by Karen Heagle

Karen Heagle
The End Of Abundance


Acrylic and ink on paper

131 x 203 cm

New York-based painter Karen Heagle’s The End of Abundance brings together a variety of characteristically autobiographical symbols: a jar of paint brushes, a discarded tube of green paint, even a tiny trophy (‘Most Christian Girl Award’) the artist was awarded on graduation from her Catholic high school. For Heagle, the detritus of the past is to be picked through, collated or discarded; to that end, she often uses the image of a vulture as a proxy self-portrait, the cold-eyed sifter through the trash of personal history. Here, though, the painting’s title, suggesting a finger-wagging moral allegory of the seventeenth century, gives the painting an unplanned societal resonance. Made in the months leading up to the collapse of the US economy, its end of- days associations are drawn into sharper focus: might those vultures take on a more sinister aspect in that light? Regardless of its economic prescience, though, Heagle’s painting is really about the tools of creativity itself: the mountain of collected experiences – here embodied in watermelon slices, plastic bags, logs – through which every artist has to sort to generate an expressive language. The visual echoes in the painting (each patch of colour its own small peak in an ascension of forms) are that language making itself heard.

Text by Ben Street


April, 2009, by Susan Rosenberg, APT New York

The "she" of "She'll Get Hers," the title of Karen Heagle's second one-person show at 1-20 gallery, seems to refer to painting itself. The show's seven works acrylic or acrylic and ink on paper (all 2008), include still life, landscape, and figure and animal subjects. Heagle stokes these traditional genres with synthetic hormones, using hot color reinforced by candy-hued outlines.
Emotion-packed and symbol-laden, the images are dignified by a cool, self-consciously inconsistent technique that combines sweeping brushstrokes and tight detail, matte texture and wet drips.
The most potent of the works shown draws on that favorite forerunner of postmodernism, Francis Picabia, his kitsch nudes of the 1940s in particular. Woman with a Snake features a cropped reclining nude in a barren landscape visited by a coiled blue-green snake. This symbol of temptation nestles docilely under the woman's right arm, a conjunction notable for its absence of visual logic and iconographic mystery. Endowed with the musculature, breasts and hairdo of Wonder Woman, the female subject is also distinguished by a deep crease in her lower torso that suggests her sex, otherwise cropped from the painting. A similar crevice divides the landscape's top edge, where a few rocks and a patch of fiery yellow ground also link it to another painting on view, Death Valley, which depicts a burning bush in an arid landscape.
Pregnant Man renders a sensational news-making event as an uncommonly tender, if strange, romantic portrait. Conveying the visceral confusion and loss of self that can accompany pregnancy, the image is dominated by the subject's protruding abdomen; Heagle reduces his face to a grotesquely distorted profile compressed into the work's upper right corner. Vulture with Carcass has the force of a manifesto: it suggests the triumphant, self-renewing possibilities inherent in predation, whether among animals or artists. The confidently rendered blue-black vulture stares impassively into the distance; its victim, articulated with the gestural fluidity of Soutine, is an abstract puddle of flesh at the raptor's feet, the splayed-out remains of violence and desire.