Mary Heilmann (b. 1940, California) is known for her abstract painting, ceramics and furniture that are influenced by 1960s counterculture, the free speech movement, and surf culture. The imaginative color relationships of her work all have backstories imbued with vivid memories and references to music, aesthetic influences, and dreams. Heilmann finds inspiration in everyday encouters, including pop songs, the light that emanates from her laptop, and the yellow-centric palette of The Simpsons. Heilmann’s practice overlays the analytical geometries of Minimalism with the spontaneity of her Californian ethos. Her works are always distinguishable by their often unorthodox—and ever joyful—approach to color and form.


Raised in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Heilmann completed a degree in literature before she studied ceramics at Berkeley. Only after moving to New York in 1968 did she begin to paint. While many painters at the time avoided any allusion of experience outside the material presence of the artwork itself, Heilmann rebelled against this rigid dogma and solidified herself as a true visionary. Her work has appeared in three Whitney Biennial exhibitions (1972, 1989, 2008) and is in many collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles) and National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C), among many others.


Related Works

  • Fellow abstract expressionist Sam Gilliam also explores vibrant and kinetic color relationships, drawing inspiration from the improvisatory nature of jazz. View his work.