Shotgun Review

Study for Self-Portrait in Parts

By Shotgun Reviews March 29, 2012

The first thing you see in Julie Heffernan’s Study for Self-Portrait in Parts (2012) is the tree hung with body parts on the right side of the painting. There are decapitated heads all around the tree. They give off a sinister mood of captivity and death. The tree reminds me of a tree so abundantly full of fruit that some of it is falling off—except here, the fruits are carcasses.

On the left, the landscape is less scary and serious than on the right-hand side of the painting; it shows an odd but interesting tree with palm-like leaves branching out of a sphere near the top. Behind the tree are gentle, orange clouds that are painted with very clear, harsh brushstrokes; they transition from blue on top to white on the bottom. The background shows a rather normal picture: a lake of gray-blue water and shadowed trees lining the banks of the lake behind the tree hung with bodies.

To the right of the palm-like tree, small, tan-furred animals that look like baby lions pace around, waiting for a new victim to hang on the body-part tree. In reality, humans hunt animals with their advanced weaponry. In this painting, however, it seems as though the artist has turned the tables, suggesting to a viewer what it would be like to be at the lower end of the food chain.

In and around the tree are multiple heads and other body parts that are painted in small, careful brushstrokes, such as the heads of a blonde woman wearing lipstick, an almost bald man with big ears and big lips, and an angry man with a large nose and red hat. There are rubbery legs draped on a branch; a woman’s body without arms, legs, or a head; and even a pig’s snout stuck onto the tree. Blue, shadowed faces behind


Julie Heffernan. Study for Self-Portrait in Parts, 2012; oil on canvas; 11 x 14 x 1.5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco.

the clear body parts give the tree an icy vibe. The tree sits on a pile of mossy, green rocks. After looking at it for a while, you start to see heads appear among the rocks; they’re mixed in so that you don’t notice them at first. However, one body in the pile of rocks is very noticeable. It is a rubbery body that has been flattened to look like it has no bones or organs.

It seems that the artist was trying to tell a joke with her title, but the work turned into a serious study of life and death. Overall the painting is a good example of a balance between dark and jesting moods, as well as two different styles of painting. It gives viewers many ideas to build on and even creates its own story in the process. Though there is a lot of death in the painting, there is also a feeling of life given off by the trees thriving all around and the little animals eating the dead. This painting shows you the unyielding story of life.


Portraiture Post Facebook is on view at Catharine Clark Gallery, in San Francisco, through April 7, 2012. This review was produced as part of the Art Smarts workshop held in conjunction with 826 Valencia.


My name is Britta Gruner. I am twelve years old and am in seventh grade. I like to travel and have been to Italy, Spain, Germany, and Thailand. My favorite books are fantasy and adventure novels. I enjoy listening to stories and can’t sit still for very long, unless I am doing something interesting. Some day I would like to climb Mt. Whitney.

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