The title of one of Andrea Joyce Heimer’s paintings is so long that Hometown had to bunch some of the words together on the checklist, deleting the spaces between them. Frequently exceeding twenty words and comprising one or more complete sentences, the titles of the works in this exhibition—her first solo show in New York—express sources of the artist’s broad-ranging envy. Provocative, stylized phrasings like I Am Jealous of Everyone You Have Ever Been with and There Have Been Many, and Then I Find Out Some of Them Were Squirters and I Am Undone by This Knowledge. It Weighs on Me like a Stone underscore a fascination with storytelling that pervades the paintings. In colorful, intricately detailed scenes derived from her own biography—and rendered in acrylic and pencil on panel—the Washington State–based painter (b. 1981) conveys narratives regarding her fears of abandonment, insecurities about her body and disposition, and sense of alienation as an adopted child without access to records of her parentage.
Crowded with characters nude and clothed, the most exuberant paintings on view offer lush gardens of earthly delights, whether set outdoors or indoors. One depicts figures cavorting and getting high in a brushy desert. While Heimer fully painted some of their bodies, she simply outlined others in pencil, allowing their forms to blend into the desert. Further playing with typical relationships among the landscape and its occupants, she rendered the painted bodies much larger than the cacti and rams around them. The technique effectively conveys the distortions of memory and imagination, the ways in which the subjects of our envy can loom large and intimidating in stories we tell ourselves about the superior lives they lead.
In domestic scenes, natural elements appear in the forms of floral wallpaper, a starry constellation on a television set, and tall grass seemingly sprouting from a kitchen floor. Nature takes on gendered connotations in two paintings, as revealed by their titles: Since I Was a Small Girl I Have Dreamed of Living off the Land and Building All I Need. I Am Jealous of Self-Made Men and On the Ranch I Remember Squatting in the Bushes and Watching the Farmhands Piss in the Pond, and Ever Since I’ve Envied the Bravado of Boys and Bulls. Here we see that Heimer’s frustrations extend beyond the personal to the societal.
The works also conjure far older narratives, with Heimer making reference to the Garden of Eden (thin green snakes appear throughout the compositions) and other mythologies (a sea monster floats in a corner; unicorns and virgins copulate along a pink path; a woman dangles grapes above her head like Dionysus). In a painting evoking narrative friezes and tapestries, an outdoor landscape is organized in three distinct rows, each portraying a different stage in the lives of women. Throughout her work, Heimer demonstrates an interest in origins—of the universe, of narrative art—that seems a response to the obscurity surrounding her own inception (she even titled a former series “The Adopted Child”).
Heimer’s paintings in themselves convey fantastic, off-kilter worlds with poignancy and humor. If their cumbersome titles at times limit room for interpretation and make the images feel like large-scale illustrations from an as-yet-unrealized book project, they also reveal an artist with plenty of stories to tell, searching for ever more inventive ways to represent them.