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Come into the Depth - A Student Exhibition Review of When the Water Rise

Published: February 16, 2018
Self Portrait As Standing My Ground by Julie Heffernan
Julie Heffernan, 2016, Self Portrait As Standing My Ground, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of the Catherine Clark Gallery
Walking into the gallery, it takes a moment to adjust to the explosions of color on the walls, and focus on the art - highly vibrant and magical oil paintings, each an entire miniature fantasy world inside a canvas. Visitors can expect delight from the newest exhibition currently gracing the walls of the Scarfone/Hartley Gallery at the University of Tampa. The installation and layout is simple - canvas on clean-white wall - the center of the room dimmed, directing the viewer to the main event. Entitled, When Water Rises , artist Julie Heffernan inspires both enchantment and thoughtfulness with her compositions that extract and elevate a poignant level of beauty out of such subjects as floods and oil spills and mattresses. Heffernan’s works are primarily titled as self portraits, because we create from the combination of our own individual thoughts and experiences, “holding a mirror to your own imagination,” as she puts it. In Self-Portrait as Standing My Ground , the artist portrays herself engrafted as part of a tree, both nurturing and possibly unintentionally destroying this habitat. A lush forest teeming with growth and wild curling life, the curvature of the tree and reaches boughs throughout the frame mimics the curve of the female form - appropriate for Heffernan’s purposes. While Standing My Ground is decidedly first person, Self Portrait as Great Acceleration expands the focus to include a entire little society. A mound reaches toward the heavens, with tiny ladders and structures and people, also busily tending their environment.

Heffernan’s work is “optimally innovative.” Climate change as a subject is nothing new, nor is her position of storytelling through the feminine eye. It’s through her combination of these elements and her use of bold teals and orange-red color themes that she brings a freshness to something that could easily have been cliche. From the curve and knob of tree trunks and ferns and vines as in, to the depth of each welcoming world, every element, the feminine mark is the inherent structure from which these images are built. As in Great Acceleration , Heffernan excels in capturing both an energetic and lively feeling while simultaneously not neglecting a reality of life post-destruction, with flames and smoke rising behind waves and rebuilding in the foreground. She explores the effects on the environment both in her strategic placement of a messy jumble of objects in the aftermath and in her exploration of “how are we going to deal?” As humans, the option is open to travel in a good or bad direction, to destroy or rebuild. Heffernan is ambiguous in her judgement, leaving the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions. She does, however, hint at how women tend to believe people are naturally good and when left to themselves, will rebuild, but she attempts to tell all angles objectively.

For a fresh feminine perspective on the current natural world via a provoking imagination journey, When Water Rises is a show well worth seeing. Anyone who enjoys color and nature will want to drink in every second of these paintings. The canvases will fool you into thinking they are actual living, breathing gardens and building sites. Come into the depths. There is so much to see and explore.