Paul Heyer

Omo Valley

April 6 - May 18, 2014

press release

Chapter NY is extremely pleased to present an exhibition of new work by Paul Heyer. This is the artist’s first solo show in New York City. The show circulates around a large figurative painting of two entwined figures enmeshed by a bright, celebratory palate.

This new body of work takes its impetus from the artist’s interest in the indigenous tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. In a tradition that goes back centuries, members of tribes such as the Mursi and the Surma, have painted each others bodies with mineral and clay pigments. The resulting patterns serve as aesthetic expression, but also as ritualistic and referential activity that harnesses natural spirits, signals social status, and protects against the sun and insects.

Within a secular scientific worldview, the Omo Valley also provides a highly likely geographic location for the emergence of Homo Sapiens. Through this lens, the notion of an Adam and Eve pairing could be seen as emerging from this fertile location and the practice of body adornment as one of the earliest traditions of abstract painting. Undeniably, abstract painting has reanimated its role within the current context of contemporary art, though perhaps to the point where unmoored marks become the scratches of the walking dead. Heyer’s work demonstrates a desire to push abstraction back into an occasionally uncomfortable tension with art’s role as a mirror.

For the central painting, Heyer recruited two adult film actors to perform in the artist’s studio so that he could paint from life. During this session, Heyer asked the two actors to paint each other’s bodies in a visual homage to the tribes of Omo Valley. Then, the pair performed intercourse while Heyer worked to capture both their forms and the reverberations of their actions. The resulting work builds up from the live drawing session as physical energy maps as multiple limbs and washes of paint bring the real into a metaphoric realm of form and color. The white dabs created by the performers on each other expand off their represented bodies, into an atmospheric layer, evoking both stars and snow—two motifs that Heyer has employed previously as entry points for abstraction. Human figures become celestial bodies, expanding into the universe, framed by transcendent blooms and floating lily pads.

A sincere desire to witness and observe drives the project, allowing Heyer, while cognizant of the couple as a site of projection, to move beyond the construction and constraints of the original scenario to a place of reverential expression. Traces of actions – the marks made by the actors on each others’ bodies, the strokes made by Heyer’s brushes, the act of copulation and the act of creation - become a network of intentions bound to the canvas.

Heyer|install|small-1 Installation view

Heyer small copy Installation view

Heyer_Adam&Even_small Adam & Eve, 2014 Oil and acrylic on canvas, 86 x 69 inches