Heishman High and Low
The Artist's Latest at Howard House
Jenny Heishman's power is in making things neat and agreeable, and truly strange at the same time. This is not so easy as it sounds. Hovering over her work is always the tradition of the cartoon, which originally simply meant a drawing made on cartone, or paper, and therefore carries with it the idea that this is one of many possible versions. Rider on the Storm, for instance, her wall sculpture in a new, small show at Howard House, is one version of the brooding Doors song.
The sculpture is a meticulously painted tree branch hanging over a standing object that looks like it's pouring out from the wall. The standing object is coated smooth and painted splotchy and streaky, in the style of Chinese porcelain of the Tang dynasty. It appears sinewy and muscular. But it isn't. It's weakly, made of Styrofoam, coated and made to resemble not just a tree trunk but a waterfall, too, and a horse's tail, the more you look. Upon closer inspection, the tree branch, which doubles as a lightning strike, is also some kind of painting. Representational? Abstract? It's hard to say why the branch is painted with so much detail, but it keeps you wondering. That's high Heishman.
Unfortunately, this show, which has only five objects in it, has problems stemming both from the artist and from the gallery. The room where they're shown is too small, and it's hard to take in one object at a time. That said, more time with works as seemingly unfinished as Fireframe and Invisible Guru would not help matters. Heishman does not seem to work well with multiple moving parts (Fireframe) or matte surfaces (Invisible Guru), but she excels at the shiny and the artificial. In her hands, they take on unimagined dimensions. Mud Thing, a sort of cactus, is a gloppy send-up of modernist sculpture. 2gether4ever is a log with a rainbow heart at its center. These aren't jokes; they're enduring curiosities. That, too, is not so easy as it sounds.