Heather Bennett on Julie Heller’s Torn
(a solo show of 42 collages, at SOHA Gallery, St. Louis)
Clouds, constellations, Rorschach. We are hard wired to make connections. We fill in the blanks, instinctively, as we don’t much like blanks. Julie Heller’s recent works, exhibited under the title Torn, tease and coax us with this human tendency. These lyrical collages masquerade as drawings; the deftness of line in torn stamps, advertisements and storybook pages, all of a certain era, becomes expressive and comprehensive, varied not only in weight but personality. Her arrangements seduce us into a game in which a picture easily materializes while a tale lurks, though somewhat sweetly, beneath. A string of text forms a sensuous curve in the shoulders of a bob-haired 20’s flapper, effortlessly and minimally quoting Fitzgerald’s excess. “But just then- Bang! He ran..” outlines the furrowed brow of a woman with a crimson pout and cowboys in her eyes. Text is line and image but also doubles as meaning, lending the work a wry, winking commentary. Heller always includes us in the joke, however, allowing her inconclusive nostalgia to burn warm and spicy as a whisky tinged whisper. Fragments of images in Heller’s work function identically to the text, telling us stories, asking us to tell our own with their associations. The artist makes dry puns and gorgeous conflations. A fish becomes a mouth which leads us to the windows of an upside down cathedral playing a sparkle in the eye.
With the artist’s aide, we can begin to make out the notes of the record playing in the background, the rush of silk past a nightstand, the bang of a cap gun and the light reflecting off the water. Heller’s process is one of discovery in which she invites us to participate, a discovery that leaves invention as an afterthought. Her authorship has a light touch. She guides us, she plays with us as she is there too, smiling by our side and quick with a reward.