Charline von Heyl: Brushes with Greatness

One of eight women artists who are storming the boys’ club.

Charline von Heyl

“By now, the vocabulary of painting has almost no new ideas,” says Charline von Heyl. “And they’re not necessary because the combinations are interesting enough.” The German artist’s kaleidoscopic works re-animate all manner of styles, techniques, and cultural flotsam. Her paintings are not abstractions so much as visual conundrums: Just as you spy something familiar—say, a face or a checkerboard—your associations are disrupted by colliding patterns and perspectives. Take It’s Vot’s Behind Me That I Am (Krazy Kat), 2010. With its reverse perspective, the painting—which is included in “The Forever Now”—makes us feel as though we could be viewing it from behind. A bricklike form floats near the top, a reference to the brick that is frequently aimed at Krazy Kat’s head in the famous comic strip. Von Heyl, 54, divides her time between New York and Marfa, Texas, where, during a residency in 2008, she painted Igitur, another work in the show. Each night at six, she recalls, the church bells played German songs. “And somehow that slipped into the painting. It has a bit of a stained-glass quality—the colors are almost fluorescent, and it’s glowing.” Von Heyl held onto Igitur for a while, to study its effects, but it’s now in MoMA’s collection. “It has a kind of intensity that I like a painting to carry,” she says. “The power that a painting can have is always mysterious.”