Monday, April 27, 2009

REVIEW: Heidi Broner at Governor’s Office

By Janet Van Fleet

Heidi Broner’s exhibit, entitled AT WORK, shows men at work in a variety of blue collar jobs. The workers all have tools (shovels, rakes, floats, mallets) in these acrylic on canvas paintings, and appear in a misty atmosphere in which only the task itself seems in focus – an experience familiar to all hard workers, whatever their gender or collar color.

Two large paintings showing solitary workers on their knees are particularly strong, and ethereal at the same time. In Spreading Cement (40 x 60") the worker, kneeling on the edge of a crumbling cement island or continent, touches his float with just his fingertips. Brickwork (Sidewalk) shows a kneeling man on a raft of bricks, tamping them into place with a wooden mallet held with a similarly light touch. A blue shadow falls out the bottom of the painting like running water. Both of these paintings evoke the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.

Another of the six large canvases on display is Burn Site (40 x 30"), with two slender men shoveling the charred remains of a building into three white plastic buckets. There are small red flecks and reflections on the buckets, suggesting that the charcoal is still hot.

There are also mid-sized paintings (such as Asphalt 1, which has a much busier composition that makes the eye flit around and not quite find a place of interest or repose), as well as a number of tiny paintings (in the 4x5" range). Asphalt (Green) (8x8") features the Roadwork crew from the exhibit card, with the same elegiac golden background and square format.

Heidi Broner is a masterful painter who celebrates (in both this and other work, such as a previous series of paintings featuring a walk in the country with a dog) daily-ness and iconic human activities. Somehow she also manages to express, at the same time, a more elevated, otherworldly experience. This may the sign of a great artist.