Julie Heffernan: When Art Meets the Subconscious Experience

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Julie Heffernan: When Art Meets the Subconscious Experience

Guest post by Katie Cook, WFU ’15 | @WakeReynolda

Julie Heffernan’s ornate self-portraits defy fantastical realism. Although frequently compared to the whimsical works of Hieronymus Borsh and the fantasy folklore of the Brothers Grimm, Heffernan’s widely popular pieces are derived from her very own enchanted and deeply personal imaginings. Since earning her MFA from the Yale School of Art and Architecture in 1985, Heffernan’s paintings have been actively exhibited throughout the United States, earning her a number of prominent awards throughout the years, including the Thomas R. Proctor Prize from the National Academy Museum in New York City and a Fulbright-Hayes Grant to West Berlin.

Raised Catholic in Northern California, Heffernan found initial inspiration in the contrast between the deadness of the surrounding suburbs and the richness of religious imagery. “I was brought up with a sense of largeness and the absolute belief in the invisible,” she says. “There’s nothing there when I start my paintings. I have to find something hidden in my brain like a larger entity that needs to be externally released.”

Visitors examine Heffernan's still life painting on view at Reynolda House.

Heffernan gradually developed what she refers to as an “image streaming experience,”a way to tap into her subconscious to find even deeper internal narratives to project through her work. “I got to the point where I was passing out from exhaustion, and this almost mind’s-eye imagery appeared,” she said when discussing her earlier work. “They’re not memories or daydreams, but exist in some entirely different plane, as if watching from someone else’s memory.”

These storylines laced with a half-hidden political agenda were inspired by what Heffernan says she cares most about: the environment, family, women’s rights, and other socio-political issues that she gracefully weaves into her work.

Heffernan’s surreal still life Self-Portrait as Explosion featured in the Fall 2013 Reynolda House exhibition Things Wondrous & Humble: American Still Life is a direct reflection of her subconscious experiences and beliefs. The explosion is metaphor for these attempts to “paint it, as a way to own it, welcome and prod it, and allow for more of it.”

As for the title of the exhibition in which her work appears,  Heffernan believes her paintings evoke a similar message: “There is great humbleness, yes, in being given access to that wondrous part of one's self - it certainly feels like a gift bestowed on one, rather than anything volitional.  Both themes in the show's title are very appropriately named, to my mind.”

To hear more about Julie Heffernan’s work, visit Reynolda House Thursday, November 21 at 5:30pm for a personal discussion with the artist.

Cook is an intern in the Museum’s Marketing & Communications Department who loves all things Reynolda. She spoke with the artist by phone for this blog post.


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