Burning in Water, New York
Valerie Hegarty is a Brooklyn-based artist who creates paintings, sculptures, and installations in mixed media. Hegarty has explored fundamental themes of American history throughout her career with a particular interest in the legacy of 19th-century American art, addressing topics such as colonization, slavery, Manifest Destiny, historical revisionism, nationalism, and environmental degradation in her work. Elaborating upon visual references to the art-historical canon of North America, Hegarty repurposes the ideological tenets of such works into a critical examination of the American legacy, artistic and otherwise. Cloaked within allusions to American classicism and evocations of the decorative and ornamental traditions, Hegarty’s work consistently interrogates the darker ramiﬁcations of the American Experiment, from the environmental impact of expansionism to the conﬂicted and repressed dimensions of collective memory.
Valerie Hegarty’s new series of wall works, Elegies to the Environment, explores the poetic possibilities of still life imagery. In the same way that an elegiac poem laments the dead, the works in Elegies to the Environment reference the art historical genre of vanitas, wherein symbolic works of art allude to the transience of life and the ﬂeetingness of pleasure and material possessions.
Hegarty’s recurring depiction of the striped tulip (Semper Augustus) in this series references the traditions of Dutch vanitas and still life painting, as well as the historical role of the highly prized ﬂower during the Dutch Golden Age Tulip mania period. Hegarty’s painting-sculpture hybrids constructed of wood, wire, and epoxy clay also recall the Japanese tradition of Ikebana (“arranging ﬂowers or making ﬂowers alive.”)
Though Hegarty manifests the prototypical subject of ﬂowers in varying iterations, she inscribes contemporary anxieties regarding environmental loss, genetic mutations, apocalyptic destruction, and illness into the works. Hegarty’s art is not without a sense of hope, however- with roots spiraling out of frames and wooden stretcher bars transforming into rogue branches, stems, and tulips, her works transmute the dead to the living, resilience and survival persisting amidst the threat of destruction.