Born in Germany in 1960, Charline von Heyl emerged in the mid-1980s when a tangible sense of optimism and impending change permeated the air. It was a period markedly different in tone from the previous muscular, frequently ironic, increasingly cynical generation.
She was part of an ever-growing and eclectic social group including Jutta Koether, Cosima von Bonin, Merlin Carpenter, Isabelle Graw, Mayo Thompson, Fareed Armaly, Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. They blended their interests and involvement in music, art, gender politics, class and culture with a pronounced enthusiasm.
In 1994 Charline moved to the United States, where she would set up three studios. Two of these, in New York and Marfa, Texas, are dedicated to painting. The third, also in New York, is reserved for drawing and printmaking. These separate studios are significant for the artist, allowing her to concentrate on each element of her practice without distraction, and increasingly the processes involved in the prints and drawings - photocopying, collaging, tearing and juxtaposing - are becoming important to the paintings.
In fact, my first encounter with Charline's work was not with her paintings but with an exhibition of her works on paper in New York's gallery district, Chelsea, in 2007. Surveying a grid of twenty works on paper, I was struck by the tension between her use of printmaking techniques such as lithography, silkscreen and woodcut; and the manifestly contemporary appearance of her work, which synthesises unlikely combinations of patterns and images. Following this show, I began to notice features on Charline's work in leading art magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. One article in particular, by Kirsty Bell, made a significant impact on me - describing Charline's paintings as works within which 'destruction and creation appear to be just two sides of the same flipped coin'.
While the drawing show had planted the seed, it was ultimately an exhibition of Charline's paintings three years later at Friedrich Petzel Gallery that prompted me to bring those initial thoughts to fruition at Tate Liverpool.
Since its establishment in 1988 Tate Liverpool has become synonymous with prescient monographic exhibitions by now major international artists such as Paul McCarthy, Robert Gober and Kara Walker. More recently, it has become a showcase for painting before, during and after modernism with the exhibitions Picasso: Peace and Freedom, René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle and the forthcoming Turner Monet Twombly. With this in mind, I became convinced that Liverpool would form an excellent context for Charline's work. From here, we extended an invitation to Charline to visit the gallery. She made a point of visiting during the Magritte exhibition, an artist she holds in high regard. Walking through the main exhibition spaces, I was struck by Charline's enthusiasm as we extended our provisional checklist to forty-two large canvases and over thirty works on paper. Charline was particularly keen to allow natural light into the space by revealing a number of windows that are currently concealed. This unusual opportunity will allow visitors to view the paintings in natural light while opening up vistas to Liverpool's River Mersey and Albert Dock.
The exhibition at Tate Liverpool will not be arranged in strict chronological order but instead will be based on visual correspondences between the paintings. The recycling and redeployment of associative images over time is characteristic of Charline's work, where motifs and techniques recur, sometimes after a period of several years. In the early work you can see multiple art historical references, while in her more recent painting the re-used fragments echo aspects of her own practice. Her recycling of material is never simply a form of pastiche or appropriation. Rather than being recognisable, it is mutated and transformed until its source becomes untraceable and irrelevant. It is this feature that makes Charline's paintings so compelling. They are not simply patchworks of quotations from the past, but they enmesh these quotations within the fabric of the present.
The painterly space she creates is not illusionistic in a perspectival sense. Neither is it the literal material surface of the canvas. Instead, it is a fusing of paint, pattern, colour and imagery that almost hovers in front of the canvas, materialising as if it has been digitally generated, even corrupted like a digital file. Moving away from the manual manipulations of her earlier work, the recent paintings employ processes of masking, layering, distorting, filtering and cloning, which have more in common with image manipulation programs. This relationship to the digital is worth reflecting upon, because Charline is very much a studio-based practitioner, who doesn't use computers in the making of her paintings. None the less, the spatial layering is akin to looking at multiple windows on a computer screen. This new visual field would have been impossible before the age of technological mediation.