Century Defining Image Pt. 2


If Abby Heller-Burnham's "The Skaters" shares some thematic ground with her "Lost Twins," it has to do at least partly with inheritance- with what the twentieth century bequeathed to the twenty-first. The allegory presented by "The Skaters" is centered on urban decay, specifically the urban decay of fin de siecle Philadelphia, and how a higher artistic sense of the visionary can be both transformative and redemptive. Part of a serious artist's potential brilliance is the fashioning of beauty (especially new modes of formal/thematic beauty) out of unpromising or abased materials- "The Skaters" achieves this by creating a hauntingly desolate ambience, which also comments on the nature of the spectral or spectrality, extending its allegory to include levels and layers of signification around the ineluctable quality of the "meta" in the higher arts to begin with. And she does this, literally and metaphorically, without leaving North Philadelphia.

The superior achievement of Abs against the tiny, crabbed hermeticism of post-modern visual art is this- her circles of signification include theirs' (i.e. she "walks the square" like Bruce Nauman and is as conceptually sound as Nauman or the Neo-Expressionists), but also expands to include narratives of form and formal mastery to create superbly well-rounded ("whole," organic) constructs which chafe against the confines of post-modernism's motivating ethos- easy, anti-humanistic, yearned-for and achieved, nihilistic aesthetic obsolescence. Abby Heller-Burnham's best paintings, despite their shared ambience of desolation and eerie time-suspension, are essentially affirmative, and humanistic, both in their formal/thematic dynamism and in their labyrinthine complexities- and "The Skaters" affirms that a worthy eye ("I") can always fashion something out of nothing (ex nihilo), in any context or socio-aesthetic time-zone.