Mary Heilmann. Little Three for Two: Red, Yellow, Blue. 1976

Mary Heilmann Little Three for Two: Red, Yellow, Blue 1976

  • Not on view

Heilmann, a California native, moved to New York in 1968 as a sculptor, but by the early 1970s she was working principally as an abstract painter. At first she avoided what some might call “pretty” colors, opting for a subdued palette of earth tones and shades of white. Then, in 1974, bright hues—specifically combinations of red, yellow, and blue—became the basis for approximately fifty works that she made up until 1979. Her dynamic layering of paint in this series reflects the lessons in ceramic glazing she had absorbed from Peter Voulkos, her ceramics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

For Little Three for Two: Red, Yellow, Blue, Heilmann applied nearly opaque layers of paint and then used a squeegee to scrape away the topmost layer, revealing the pigment beneath. Her interest in “thinking about structures,” as she has put it, also includes considerations of the canvas itself: Heilmann used an extra-thick stretcher and painted the work’s sides, accentuating the fact that a painting is a three-dimensional object rather than a two-dimensional surface. Her composition—abutting squares of color framing smaller squares of color—evokes geometric abstraction; however, instead of embracing the rigorous austerity typical of that style, Heilmann has cultivated the look of experimentation and craft. Lines don’t stay within the lines, drips and smears of excess pigment abound, and uneven surface textures invite tactile associations.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Acrylic on canvas
13 1/2 × 24" (34.3 × 61 cm)
Grace Rainey Rogers Fund (by exchange); The Pat Hearn and Colin de Land Acquisition Fund; Gift of the Advisory Committee (by exchange)
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

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