Pictured Above: Mary Heilmann in her Bridgehampton studio. | Brett Jutkiewicz photo
The arc of a human lifetime is the best of stories, encompassing formative moments, the quest for professional belonging, friendship and loss, success and periods of deep introspection.
Director Matt Creed, a friend of the ever-innovating and celebrated 83-year-old painter and ceramicist Mary Heilmann, whose studio is in Bridgehampton, had unique access to interview the artist over the course of seven years, as she shared her path from the psychedelic West Coast culture of her formative years, through her success in the downtown New York art scene and her embrace of sobriety and connection over the past four decades.
The World Premiere of Mr. Creed’s feature-length biography, “Mary Heilmann: Waves, Roads & Hallucinations,” shows at East Hampton’s UA theater at 11:45 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 9 as part of the Hamptons International Film Festival.
Mr. Creed, whose experience has been in narrative filmmaking, was introduced to Ms. Heilmann by a mutual friend who worked at the 303 Gallery on West 21st Street, after seeing one of her shows there. She pitched the idea of turning her monograph and memoir, “The All Night Movie,” into a film.
“I related to that book on a personal level — it makes her work make sense,” said Mr. Creed. “Mary’s a great subject, and she likes to tell stories, and I knew, using “The All Night Movie” as a blueprint, which stories to ask her. It all just flowed.”
The film intersperses visual imagery and music with intimate interviews with Ms. Heilmann in her Bridgehampton studio, on the ocean beach along the South Fork, and as she works on an installation at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
Much of the film was shot between 2014 and 2017, after which Mr. Creed realized he had an overwhelming amount of footage, and had to step back to find the storyline to weave it all together.
“I think the film is an art piece,” he said. “It feels to me like an extension of Mary’s work.”
In her early years, Ms. Heilmann embraced the outsider’s viewpoint, focusing on colorfield painting because in the 1960s “it was the thing to hate.” She also began painting, she says in the film, to “make the sculptors mad,” after spending her early years working hard to be noticed as a sculptor. As a woman painting at a time when the art world was dominated by men, she kept a sarcastic edge that kept people at bay.
Ms. Heilmann would come to be embraced by New York gallerist Pat Hearn, whom she describes in the film as “a powerful, humane person, really smart and really strong.” Ms. Hearn would set Ms. Heilmann’s work on the road to fame and notoriety, but would also prove to be a true friend. Her death from cancer in 2000 would also set the artist on a path from being an outsider to seeking genuine friendships.
“Recovery is about opening up, having a spiritual life, which is about connecting with other people,” says Ms. Heilmann in the film.
Mr. Creed considers himself fortunate to call Ms. Heilmann a mentor as well as a friend.
“The curator and critic Bob Nickas once told me the best artist can always sit at the kids’ table as they grow older. Mary is always at the kids’ table,” he said. She’s always talking to young artists, and is always interested in what young artists are doing.”
“She’s talked a lot about the transition going from this very family-like and friendly experimental environment to a more transactional art world,” he added. “It’s important to understand — this is what artists have to deal with as they progress in their careers. Ultimately, you’re selling art and it’s not cheap. Not a lot of artists do talk about that, but she’s very open about it.”
“I always related to her in her younger days, with this kind of alienation, moving about a community but peripherally,” he added. “You have to have confidence in what you’re doing, and allow the rest to unfold. That’s something I really take away from Mary. She’s very confident in her approach to her work and her art. She’s uncompromising. She got her respect pretty late in the game. To me, that’s the ultimate blueprint for an artist — a slow and steady climb.”
Tickets to “Mary Heilmann: Waves, Roads and Hallucinations,” are available online here.
Also in Views from Long Island:
Jennifer Esposito’s narrative feature “Fresh Kills,” showing on Oct. 7 and Oct. 10 at 5 p.m., brings late 1980s Staten Island to vivid life through the lens of an inquisitive young girl who discovers her father is a mafia kingpin.
Junior Gonzalez’s narrative feature, “These Days,” is about the life of a burgeoning muralist in Brentwood who is immersed in a neighborhood of Salvadoran immigrants, who provide him with a rich tapestry of stories, traditions and perspectives. It’s showing at East Hampton’s UA theater on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 5:15 p.m.
“Forgotten Founders: David Hempstead, Senior,” a part of the Plain Sight Project exploring the histories of enslaved people on the East End, will show at East Hampton’s UA theater on Monday, Oct. 9 at 6 p.m., along with the East Coast Premiere of the narrative short “Merv,” about a young man summoned to his grandmother’s house to meet her new boyfriend, and “The Pedestrian,” about a pedestrian who sets off on a nine-day walk from Brooklyn to Montauk.
Tickets are available online at hamptonsfilmfest.org.