They say life has a habit of imitating art. It seems true in the case of Mary Heilmann. As an artist, she produces eye-poppingly colourful abstract works, from bold geometrics and bright splodgy paintings to zesty ceramics and chunky pieces of furniture. And looking round her house, there's no question that this enthusiasm spills over into the American septuagenarian's domestic arrangements.
But maybe it's a case of art imitating life, for Heilmann herself is a vibrant lady. "The life and the pieces [of art] are really one thing," she says. "I've always loved colours. My decorating style is maximal rather than minimal – and a lot of people wouldn't even call it a style. But that's the way I think and the way I work – it's just a big mix of everything."
Which is handy, as her home and studio are almost as one. She lives on a farm in Bridgehampton, an area of Long Island, New York, which, she swiftly points out, is "middle-class" rather than "upscale" like the rest of the notoriously expensive Hamptons. She lives in "an arts and crafts house, about 100 years old," while her studio is the red barn, just next door. "In the morning, I walk down a nice little stone path, have my coffee and start working," she says. "It's pretty natural, just entwined with daily life."
She's been living there since 1995, and while she also has an apartment in New York City, the seaside location has been an inspiration: "It's really primary – and it has been affecting the way my work is evolving. I'm a half-mile from the beach – the ocean is right there and there are beautiful roads around here." While her pieces are hardly tea-shop-twee, she has found herself producing a lot of "landscape-inspired abstractions".
That inspiration will be there for all to see in a new show in London called Vision, Waves and Roads. The work also harks back to her West Coast upbringing. Born in San Francisco, Heilmann was a surfer in her youth. She studied ceramics and sculpture at the University of California, Berkeley, when the vibe was shifting from beatnik to hippie. She refocused on painting when she moved to New York; this was 1968, and she k was hanging out with the likes of the minimalist sculptor Richard Serra, the artist Dan Graham and the "building-cuts" maestro Gordon Matta-Clark as part of a boho Soho scene. Her work became abstract paintings, but via Postminimalism, psychedelia, Pop Art, surrealism... it's a pick-and-mix approach, the chief constant being her hues: shrimp pink, banana yellow, jelly-bean green, cola-cube red.
She is similarly eclectic when it comes to deciding which works to hang. She has several versions of a geometric red table round the house, but she also fills the neutral walls with her friends' works. There are pieces by American abstract artist David Reed and the Brit sculptor Paul Lee. A particular favourite is Dead Letters by John Waters (better known as a director of films such as Hairspray).
"I love the Waters piece. He sent letters to people he knew were not on the planet any more and they were sent back to him," she explains. She swapped it for one of her own works – a perk of having many artist friends, surely? "Usually, the people who are my friends are the people whose art I like," she observes. One can only imagine that such friendships must be, well, colourful indeed.
Vision, Waves and Roads is at Hauser & Wirth, London W1, to 5 April
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