Review: Wendy Heldmann goes domestic, modest at Marine Contemporary

Wendy Heldmann’s paintings at Marine Contemporary riff on the history of the color-drenched domestic interior (think Matisse, Vuillard) as well as the image as diary entry (roughly related to Dawn Clements and Danica Phelps).

Modestly scaled between intimate and declamatory, they describe rooms, drawers or shelves full of stuff. Emotionally, they toggle between the buoyancy of having and the bittersweetness of letting go.

Heldmann, based in Eugene, Ore., is also a poet, and her fragmentary, suggestive titles invest the plain-spoken scenes with a needed bit of elusiveness: “Imagine That We Could Live Without It.” “The Name Meant Nothing to Us.” “Soon but Not Today.”

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The paintings themselves feel tentative, with their middle-of-the-road palette and carefully casual naturalism. Some, like the overhead view into a drawer scattered with leaves, pine cones, figurines and other private relics, recall the still lifes of Manny Farber.

In the best of the paintings, Heldmann raises the chromatic stakes, pushing more assertively and convincingly into the territory of interior feeling and metaphor.

“Moving so Easily Away From Each Other” gleams in this regard. The simple view into a kitchen features all the conventional elements -- table, chairs, countertop appliances -- but the floor is a radiant gold and the wall neatly split between mint green and pale pink. The scene is devoid of characters but not of life. It surges with a quiet intensity, the friction of presence rubbing up against absence.

Marine Contemporary, 1733-A Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-0294, through Aug. 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays.