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The Persistence of Memory: Works by Deborah Hede By Lisa Melandri


charcoal drawings have always been concerned with process. Her repetitive gestures, overlapping staccato and hard-pressed strokes – which leave a primary mark as well as the secondary dust and detritus from the charcoal stick – are the vehicle by which she creates form, pattern and composition. Each stroke is additive, but while she builds her surface, she also erases the strokes underneath and adjacent, bringing to light new shapes while masking others. Though there are other media present in the drawings, such as graphite and pastel, the charcoal is the principal element. The work proclaims its materiality in an irresistible way, presenting the full extent of nuance and range of shade and surface permitted by (mostly) one color and one substance. From the velvety and powdery to the waxy and slick, and from the matte, flat black/gray to the light-absorbent, deep black/blue, the drawings seem infinitely layered and changeable. And it is impossible to discuss or describe them without pointing out the Hand of the Artist. The metaphorical Hand is inherent to the construction of the work, and it is declaratively present on the surface of each piece. In her most recent series of drawings, however, Hede has complicated both form and content, creating works with multiple points of entry and transparent references to the passage of time. Though they are still marked by the artist’s process – her action, repetition and layering – they are also subtly and faintly figurative. She has introduced elements and objects to the picture plane that spark memory and recognition in the viewer. Where the earlier works are Modernist in their absolute insistence on process and formal resolution, these works also create narrative and recollection within the residue of matter. Souvenir, for example, is a disturbed grid, where the picture plane is divided into

unequal, overlapping sections, each containing an emerging, spectral cipher. Hede cuts into the charcoal image with a series of stencils painted with enamel, which serves as a contrasting medium against the rich miasma of mottled black. The resulting symbols are fragmented, seemingly incomplete, sketchy and eroded, but they read like hieroglyphs. She relies on the human propensity towards reconstruction – that the viewer will inevitably and almost unconsciously try to re-create meaning from minimal information. And though the solution of the puzzle might be different for each individual, the impulse is universal. The pictograms in all of the drawings from this series are in fact stylized and reductive representations of the literal hand – taken from the ruins of classical statuary. Hede has exploited the Hand as a pregnant metonymy, an aggregate of the historical figure, but also, more slyly, as the stand-in for the artist and her creative process. By engaging with the whole of artistic production, she literally layers this body of work with a timeless vocabulary and connects it to history, cognitive recognition and shared definitions of art. When assessing these works and their ghostly subject, one can also not help but think of the centuries-old tradition of the separated and saved body part, the relic, used devotionally by the religious (the saint’s bone) and the layman (the lock of hair). Even with her titles, like Souvenir or Casting Relics, Hede alludes to the macabre but intimate keepsake or token, and suggests the full range of love, loyalty, commitment and even obsession that that memento implies. Memory and the stimulation of memory, therefore, lie at the core of the work, waiting to be tapped – in myriad ways – by the viewer. In a series of works on paper and small paintings that are a departure from her signature charcoal drawings, Hede has again depicted a series of fragments, but this time, in a representation of Place. The works on paper, created with graphite, gouache, ink and enamel paint, resist exact description. Each describes a common any-place – they could just as easily describe an urban as suburban setting, residential or commercial – and each features a tell of the meeting points, corners, and cul de sacs of our built environment. Though the arrangement of forms are composed in a seemingly random order, the imposition of a grid on each scene – the drawn checkerboard pattern that overlays each composition like a view through a chain link fence – is an intentional

device of structure. She has further classified and categorized each image with large, foregrounded numbers. The viewer is not privy to the why and how of the system used, but are drawn to imaginative association. And our conclusions for numbering systems, range from the quotidian to the sober – from manufactured bar code and surveillance photography, to the serial branding of the prisoner – leaving us slightly unsure at what and where we are looking. In her series of small paintings, she takes this disjunctive feeling even further. These oil and graphite works all portray buildings with repeated arches. Their ghostly surfaces reflect classical architecture through the haze of the dream state, blurring historical time and personal experience. They could as easily depict the Coliseum, the Pantheon, or Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti as any number of buildings from all over the world. This architecture is one of power and stature, yet in her paintings, it becomes the locus of loss, emotion and memory. Like the moody arcades and shadows of De Chirico’s metaphysical paintings, the subjects are identifiable but unraveled, reinvented and imbued with a half-life. Hede cites the photograph of the building that houses the state archives in Prague from W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz – a book that explores the holocaust through the very slippery and inconsistent nature of memory – as her architectural model. But as the eponymous protagonist himself asserts, the edifice resembles many places with many functions, from a mansion and prison to “a monastery, a riding school, an opera house and a lunatic asylum.” The artist has purposefully used imagery with multiple connotations, refashioning a place into the general and universal version of itself, encompassing the illusion of place. Hede instills, in her art, the vagaries of memory, whether the metaphor and portrayal of the Hand to evoke and recall the history of art-making, or the use of Place to plumb the uncanny. The work, though formally different, is closely related in subject and tone, and in its insistence on the viewer’s emotional positioning. It conveys the simultaneity of familiarity and strangeness in the semi-recognizable and the almost abstract.

Lisa Melandri, Deputy Director of Programs and Exhibitions, Santa Monica Museum of Art

Odes to Light By Sarah S. King

“It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one’s memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.” Edgar Degas

“We must therefore listen attentively to every whisper of the world, trying to detect the images that have never made their way into poetry, the phantasms that have never reached a waking state. No doubt this is an impossible task in two senses; first because it would force us to reconstitute the dust of those actual sufferings and foolish words that nothing preserves in time; second, and above all, because those sufferings and words exist only in the act of separation.” 202498

2007-2008 Graphite, gouache, ink, enamel paint with collage on paper 39 x 39 inches

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization1


our recollection of great tragedies and loss – as well as happiness – often translated, fragmented, through the individual and collective inventory of repeated images and gesture. Simultaneously, its recovery perpetuates our presence or intensifies its temporality; in its very repetitions, liberates our differences, while its indeterminateness occasions a veracity, which is precisely what allows us to imagine our futures. In the introduction to her seminal book, The Infinite Line, Re-making Art After Modernism, art historian Briony Fer ponders this subject: “of what the world would be like without recurrence, reiteration, repetition.”2 Fer continues, “As the very ground of consciousness, repetition cuts both ways, both shoring up and shattering its fragile and precarious hold. It is a means of organizing the world. It is a means of disordering and undoing. It can be utopian or dystopian.”3 These dichotomies are sublimely reiterated in the drawings comprising Deborah Hede’s body of work, stemming back to 1998. It is not surprising either, that Hede worked first in the photographic medium, before turning to sumptuous charcoal monochromes and, subsequently, to semi-figurative, gridded compositions that almost seemed to have developed themselves out of that deceptively stabilizing process – Souvenir

2008 Graphite, charcoal and enamel paint on paper 40 x 30 inches

instead a subjective mediation of realities. Deeply inspired by W.G. Sebald’s writings of exile and alienation, Hede writes that her art form “addresses the imprecision of memory, place, culture, identity and history.” Her works may therefore be construed as visual odes to Sebald’s novels, which at times uncannily echo the author’s sensorial

investigations of the psyche and memory, as well as into the act of forgetting, in the attempt to understand, thereby escaping desolation and suffering. In this vein, the artist’s earlier drawings, which at times resemble topographical renderings of landscapes, in and of themselves become those quiet tenebrous terrains of dreams and dark abysses of memory that Sebald alludes to. Described in orchestrations of light and shadow, Hede’s terrains are achieved through pentimento-like techniques of layerings, scumblings and Tracing Logic 3

erasures, mottling and slippages, and densely repeated or swirling brushstrokes. Or

2008 Graphite, charcoal and pastel on paper 26 x 19 inches

alternatively, they are expressed in the ethereal compositions of opaque or translucent layers of chalky white pastel – flickering suffusions of light that exist somewhere in between the natural world and semi-conscious states – colorless trances, evocatively similar to the imagistic movement of “powdery veils that rose silently from the roar of the Falls [that] drifted into my sleep like white curtains blown into a room black with night,”



experienced by the character of Ambrose Adelwarth in Sebald’s novel, The Emigrants.4

Mouldering (LEFT)

2007 Oil, graphite on panel 12 x 12 x 1 inch

An analogous comparison is provoked in Sebald’s description of the painter Max Fer-

Fortifications (TOP RIGHT)

left when matter dissolved, little by little, into nothingness.”5 In the medium of drawing,

2007 Oil, graphite on panel 12 x 12 x 1 inch

Hede’s brooding elegies of unspoken loss and disappearance are poignantly reinforced

Along Asylum (BOTTOM RIGHT)

2007 Oil, graphite on panel 12 x 12 x 1 inch

ber’s studio where “things remained undisturbed, muted under the grey, velvety sinter

in the textural surfaces of paper upon which scatterings of powdery residue and tiny mounds of broken shards and shavings of excess charcoal have been left as metaphoric traces of life. Other compositions starkly convey this mournfulness through silky raven fields creased by gritty – even darker – undulating lines.

Hede’s body of contemplative work has continued to evolve from this interiority and solitude to works that are also full of pictorial possibilities, and into which colors have been introduced as manifestations of renewed life. Hovering between abstraction and figuration, absence and presence, the artist’s compositional fields, overlaid with fine grids reminiscent of graph paper, oscillate between interior and exterior realms. In both works from Immaterial Conditions (2008), for example, swirling labyrinths of mottled darkness, punctuated with wisps and eruptions of glowing ember red-oranges, have emotive connotations. Other drawings conjure blurry landscapes filled with trees where shapes and shadow-souls emerge, drift over languid bodies of water, simultaneImmaterial Conditions

2008 Graphite, charcoal and pastel on paper 26 x 19 inches

ously coalesce over their surfaces, as they move in and out of the pictures’ foregrounds and backgrounds. In a subsequent chapter from Fer’s volume devoted to “Infinity,” a particularly insightful passage, discussing this concept in relation to Agnes Martin’s spiritual rendering of grids, can also be most aptly applied to Hede’s oeuvre: “There is the utter concentration, first of all, and yet there is the errant, ephemeral behaviour of drawing; it is a space of contemplation, of immateriality, and yet it is also a space of labour, repetitive and meticulous labour.”6 The composition entitled 202499, for example, comprises a grey-


2007-2008 Graphite, gouache, ink and enamel paint on paper 39 x 39 inches

bluish field with shadowy impressions of foliage. To the left, a river of creamy light, onto which the shadowy silhouettes of foliage and trees are projected, dissolves the field’s rectilinear planes. In the background turned to sky, small ovoids and speckles of pale and dark blues suggest infinite networks of constellations multiplying within and

beyond what’s left of the faintly gridded areas. These tensions between rigid linear structures and fluid irregular gesture are even more pronounced in 202498, where the overall grid is punctured by interlocking and overlapping geometric forms that jut out like rocks and boulders as rivulets of yellow ochres and pearl grey-blues cascade down the composition’s field. An ominous configuration of stenciled numbers that anchors the lower edge of the paper, perhaps a reference to imposed sociopolitical orders and systems of classifications, is rapidly subverted by dynamic expressions of spontaneous dabs and strokes, and washes of color, from which the eye wanders back and forth, or Immaterial Conditions 2

2008 Graphite, charcoal and pastel on paper 26 x 19 inches

is drawn back inward beneath the surface. Several other pieces that depict skeletal architectural structures and motifs, bathed in luminous orange light, or where outlines of buildings and pastel wing-forms appear against white shingled backgrounds, become simultaneous reflections of despair and hope. In contrast to their earlier, somber and silent counterparts, these compositions cease being repositories of sorrows or longings, and in their restlessness are momentarily unburdened. At these instances, the works sing.

Michel Foucault, “Strangeness, Integration, and Crisis: On Peter Handke’s Play Kaspar,” Campo Santo, by W. G. Sebald in Madness and Civilization, New York: Modern Library Trade Paperback; Random House imprint, 2006, p. 53. 2 Briony Fer. The Infinite Line, Re-making Art After Modernism, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004, p. 1. 3 Ibid, p. 3. 4 W.G. Sebald. The Emigrants. trans. Michael Hulse. Frankfurt am Main: Vitto von Eichborn GmbH & Co Verlag KG, 1992, p. 108. 5 Ibid, p. 161. 6 Fer. The Infinite Line, p. 60. 1

Displaced Geometries

2008 Graphite, charcoal and pastel on paper 26 x 19 inches

Deborah Hede Biography and Exhibition History



Selected Group Exhibitions

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California


Born in Chicago, Illinois

Education 1989

M.F.A., Painting, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

The Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York

One-Person Exhibitions 2008

Forms of Vestige, Aaron Payne Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Gravitas, curated by Jan Riley, Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, Long Island City, New York 2007

Organic/Structure, Commissary Arts, Venice, California Summer Select, Aaron Payne Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico Fresh, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California 2005


New Drawings, Kate Ganz, USA Ltd., New York, New York

Incognito, Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, California 2004


Drawings, ACE Gallery, Los Angeles, California

White on White, Patricia Faure Gallery, Santa Monica, California 2003


New Drawings, Kate Ganz USA Ltd., New York, New York 1990

Borrowed Landscapes, Small Press Traffic, San Francisco, California

Minimalism and More: Contemporary Art from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California 2001

Kate Ganz USA Ltd., New York, New York Triennial Exhibition, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona



Lectures, Symposia, etc.

Six Women Artists, Kate Ganz USA Ltd., New York, New York



Gravitas, exhibition catalogue, essay by Jan Riley, curator, Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, Long Island City, New York

Forms of Vestige: A Conversation with Sarah King and Jan Riley, Aaron Payne Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico


Selections from the Permanent Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico Shrine Show, Owings Dewey Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Forms of Vestige, exhibition catalogue, essays by Sarah King & Lisa Melandri, Aaron Payne Fine Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Monothon 12, SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico



10,000 Plus, Betty Rymer Gallery, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (traveling) 1991

Issue of Choice, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles, California 1988

Works on Paper, Betty Rymer Gallery, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Organic/Structure: Deborah Hede, November 17, 2007,

Fluxus, N.A.M.E. Gallery, Chicago, Illinois 1985

Labyrinth, ARC Gallery, Chicago, Illinois

Deborah Hede/Susan York, Santa Fe Art Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Affiliations 2000-2008


Phoenix Triennial, exhibition catalogue, Brady Roberts, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art and Beverly Adams, Curator of Latin American Art, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, pp. 16-18. 1999

Luscious Landscapes, Lesley Constable, The New Mexican, January 19, Pastiempo, p.16. 1991



Images of Choice, Los Angeles Times, July 9, p. F4.

Viewing Program, The Drawing Center, New York, New York




Souvenir, 2008 BACK



Tracing Logic 1, 2008


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Deborah Hede: Forms of Vestige – Exhibition Catalogue