Charline Von Heyl: Now Or Else – Tate Liverpool

The exceptionally sunny day that was the 24th of February saw the opening of Tate Liverpool’s latest top floor exhibition; Now or Else.  The extremely open and vast gallery space is dedicated to the retrospective of New York based artist Charline von Heyl and this is the first major exhibition of her work to grace our shores.

A creator of abstracts and obstacles, von Heyl is a true painter through and through. She combines aspects of self-reflecting post modernism and the sheer irony of painting itself to create large and often vibrant canvases of colour and contrasts.  This exhibition showcases just over forty of her works and yet the use of space in the gallery is at once a breath of fresh air.  With von Heyl eager to admit to no real message or meaning in any of her paintings, the curatorial team have clearly put together the works in the same frame of mind.  With no specific order to where the works are placed (either chronologically or otherwise) and large, empty floor spaces that allow distance or closeness to be a choice for the viewer, the works are brought to life and each impression of the paintings will be as individual and different as each person viewing them.

With the exception of the titles and the year they were painted, the works seem secretive and puzzle like in their creation.  At first it can seem that there may be the presence of an object or creature inside the paintings themselves but each brush stroke manipulates our sight as the perspective between them and the viewer changes with distance.  This makes multiple viewings of each painting essential for the greatest amount of enjoyment.  The more modern paintings appear to have had the physical equivalent of a Photoshop make over but it is von Heyl who is playing games with our perception as some paintings hide objects that could almost be real if not for their out of focus aesthetic.

At the same time, each painting appears to be desperately avoiding similarities which reflect von Heyl’s desire for constant change and the flux created with using new techniques.  This means that the contrast from painting to painting is exhilarating while wandering the gallery and sharp, black and white edges can change to a maelstrom of curved colour between a single canvas.

Charline von Heyl
Now or Else 2009
Acrylic & oil on linen
2083 x 1981 mm

© Charline von Heyl

Highlights for the exhibition include the 2009 painting Now or Else which at first may seem like a colourful, squiggle-ridden square but, at least for this viewer changed into a wonderfully cartoon like evil virus with teeth, while 2011’s Hibou Habibi mixes stark, pop art lines with dripping and smudged paint creating the effect of extreme detail potentially hiding anything from an animal’s fur to a forest.

Charline von Heyl
Hibou Habibi 2011
Acrylic and charcoal on linen 2011
2083 x 1981 mm

© Charline von Heyl
Courtesy of Fredrich Petzel Gallery, New York
Photograph: Larry Lamay

Now or Else is an awe-inspiring exhibition showcasing an artist who is constantly re-developing and evolving at any cost.  Each painting holds personal mysteries and visuals that in the end, only the viewer will be able to see. This exhibition is a highly recommended experience for those after some colourful but interesting escapism from the grey days of city life.

Charline von Heyl: Now or Else is on at Tate Liverpool from the 24th of February to the 27th of May. Tickets are £8 each or £6 for concessions.

Images courtesy of Tate Liverpool.

Cover image:

Charline von Heyl

Untitled 1990

© Charline von Heyl

Adam Scovell


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