Front Page Award

The Newswomen's Club of New York has awarded Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Merle Hoffman its prestigious 2010 Front Page Award for political commentary.

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Winter 1997


On The Issues Magazine - Self-Portrait as Infanta Maria Teresa With Big Hands  inches. Collection of Merle Hoffman.
"Self-Portrait as Infanta Maria Teresa With Big Hands" (1996) oil on canvas. Collection of Merle Hoffman.

"Historically, still life was a tradition of and for women, who weren't allowed access to nude models for fear that we would become corrupted," says Julie Heffernan. "Ironically, open melons and lush lumps of flesh were supposed to be expressions of domesticity."

After earning a graduate degree from the Yale School of Art in 1985, Heffernan began painting large mythological works she describes as "very tough, aggressive, almost masculine...a la Picasso and Tintoretto." It took her a while to understand "I was painting according to a system of values that weren't mine. I had to start painting something that I really loved." Her artistic breakthrough came in the rebellious and liberating act of obliterating those works, "really just throwing turpentine at them and erasing all but a vestige - and then in the very center I would put some tiny little image that was completely my own."

At moments Heffernan's distinctive work seems to achieve the experience of overwrought, over-ripe fruit and flowers - the marvelous sensation, just before decadence, that reminds one of, in her words, "an overly laid table at Thanksgiving - where there's one too many dishes and it's almost excessive...but not quite." "My paintings come out of a space of empathy," Heffernan told ON THE ISSUES at her New York studio. "I am creating an experience of entering a space of unknowable, unknown oozing of sensations. It has to do with the way that your body feels when you're holding flesh, when you're holding a child, when you're holding a lover. The individual self is larger than the confines of the skin."

On The Issues Magazine -
"Self-Portrait as Infantas Tending the Mud Commodious"

Her work is explicitly connected to the body, and "Self-Portrait as Infanta Maria Teresa With Big Hands" (page 35) is one example of this connection. Painted after Heffernan had a near-fatal ectopic pregnancy, it offers a different kind of battle scar: Heffernan's heroine displays her vulnerability and posits the female body and reproductive capability as a site of potential death. "I had always loved the female nude in painting, but never felt as though I could paint it because of all of the problems associated with it - the female subject as object of the male gaze. But my experience gave me a way to the female nude in a way that's direct and felt - the nude not as sex object but bearer of scars, not victim but survivor."

Highly self-conscious, Heffernan's work is not without its wry humor. She painted "World Without Men" (pages 32-33) in response to Camille Paglia's absurd statement that if civilization were left to women, we'd all be in grass shacks. Depicting her own view of Manifest Destiny, complete with sprawling Olympias, Heffernan suggests that perhaps being in grass shacks might not be so bad; it's a kind of Utopian vision after all.

Julie Heffernan's work asks us to be still for just a moment, to connect, to explore, and to be uncertain: "It is in the willingness to reveal ourselves that the choice comes to dispense with petty secrets and feel our way to the deeper issues, the ones that really count." - STACEY SCHRADER

"Self portrait as Monarch"

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