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Charline von Heyl Biography

German abstract painter Charline von Heyl is known for her ever-evolving compositions that blend geometry and abstraction, collage and printmaking, resulting in expressive and layered works that explore the tension between materials co-existing on the same surface.

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Early Years

Born in Mainz, Germany, von Heyl spent her child in Bonn, a city in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Von Heyl studied painting at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg and at the Dusseldorf Art Academy before moving to New York in 1994.

Charline von Heyl Artworks

Painted, printed, and collaged to form new configurations, Charline von Heyl's works draw from a range of sources, from comic books to the works of abstract expressionists.

Re-Imagined Bodies

Von Heyl's early works show abstract configurations, expressing bodies and sentiment as fading smudges of brown rendered in oil on canvas in Big Joy (2004), or whirling forms of pink enquiring into female representation in Vanus (2004).

'It's like bending bones,' the artist has said of her own process—wrestling materials and shapes that do not appear to go together, which eventually form a new image.

Female Figures

The theme of womanhood and its contradictions is recovered in later paintings, which incorporate geometric elements in subdued yet explosive compositions.

At once playful and threatening, Pink Vendetta (2009), a sharp bouquet of pink with crosses and triangles protruding from the centre, reflects the physical and emotional tensions in the body that seek expression while being confined to social expectations.

In Woman #2 (2009), the shadow of a curvy female figure bent in a suggestive pose is covered with the same diamond pattern as the wallpaper backdrop, ornamental and fading. Two flesh-coloured spheres rest in the place of her face, alluding to overt sexualisation.

Layered Compositions

Other paintings blend geometry and abstraction to explore the elusive, as with the references to witchcraft in Black Stripe Mojo (2009), which depicts distorted feline patterns against a striped wallpaper background, or Momentito (2009), in which a dark ritualistic symbol stems from a white square.

Mixed-Media Images

Increasingly detailed, later printed works on paper blend a variety of materials and techniques, as with the dark coiled figures in Nightpack (2014), made from colour sugar lift aquatint combined with soft ground and drypoint etching.

Likewise, Lacuna Lotto (2011), a blend of lithograph collage and monotype printing, depicts a female figure with the top of her face hollowed out to reveal an explosive backdrop. The woman's lips are curled into a slight smile, with the letter P printed to her left.

Depth and Flatness

Through layering materials and images, von Heyl's paintings often achieve a sense of depth by juxtaposing two-dimensional shapes against soft backdrops, evoking a brimming seascape in Old Fish New Fish (2016) or an old wallpaper in Vacancy (2017).

Enquiring into its own material representations, Ornament and Crime (2017) depicts an abstract black-and-white pattern that is compressed into a grid within one quarter of the painting. It evokes the shift in abstract representation over time, referring to Austrian architect and theorist Adolf Loos' distaste for formal decoration.

Awards and Accolades

Von Heyl is the recipient of residences at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus and the Chinati Foundation, Marfa. In 2014, she was a finalist for the Hugo Boss Prize.


Charline von Heyl's works have been shown widely in Europe, the U.K., and North America.

Select solo exhibitions include Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2018); Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2017); Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne (2015); Tate Liverpool (2012); Kunsthalle Nurnberg, Germany (2012); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2012); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2011); and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York (2010).

Selected group exhibitions include Capitain Petzel, Berlin (2020); Kerlin Gallery, Dublin (2020); Parkett, Zurich Exhibition Space (2020); National Art School Gallery, Sydney (2017); Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2016, 2012); The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2016); Gagosian Gallery, London (2015); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2014, 2013); and Whitney Biennial 2014 (2014).

Elaine YJ Zheng | Ocula | 2022

Charline von Heyl

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