Mary Heebner's Paintings of the
by Martin Sugarman
H20 Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 1
It is not hard to fully understand Mary Heebner's immediate connection with Neruda's small wooden house overlooking the Pacific Ocean and its pounding breakers against the jagged rocks on the shoreline. It could be mistaken for Heebner's home in Santa Barbara instead of the rocky coastline of Chile. Just as the very basic theme of Neruda's ocean poems speak of a reverence for the life-giving and taking powers of the eternal pulse of the ocean, Heebner's vivid paintings mirror the movement and the continuous flow of emotions evoked by the restless sea. She says, “I was responding directly to the ocean, just as Neruda had responded to the ocean in his poetry.”
It took Heebner two years to complete fifty copies of the hand-made book. Each book contains twelve tri-part folios with letter press poems printed in English and Spanish on hand made linen paper and on either side is a full size pigment print. Thanks to the efforts of Rene Alegria, the editor of Rayo, an imprint of Harper Collins, after five years the book was published as a trade edition.
Neruda and Heebner go beyond personal awareness of the ocean in that to experience and appreciate. They remind us through their art that our experiences of the power of the ocean and our awareness of these experiences is part of nature itself. The eternal rhythm of the ocean lies within us.
Mary Heebner was born in Los Angeles and makes her home in Santa Barbara, where she works out of her studio up from the beach. She received a M.F.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Her work has been widely exhibited around the world. Skilled in paper making, Heebner uses handmade paper, powdered pigments and “anything that dissolves in water” to produce her paintings. She says, “My work teeters on the representational, but tries for inner landscape, one that suggests movement and emotion.” She adds, “I try to notice what is vivid about an idea and link that with a sensual and well-crafted process.”
It seems to me that Heebner's ocean paintings, apart from illustrating Neruda's poems, returns us to the timelessness of the ocean. The true content of her painting touches our inner emotions and senses and makes us more aware of the blue shore of silence.
— MARTIN SUGARMAN
Through Neruda's poems in this collection, “On the Blue Shore of Silence.” you know that the poet is speaking specifically of the Pacific Ocean, It is not a soft, calm sea — certainly not the Mediterranean, for example. Nor is it the turquoise deserts of the Caribbean. It is the fecund, violent, tumultuous Pacific. I tried to imbue my paintings with such feelings, specific to that ocean that I know and love, that touches both my home in Santa Barbara as well as the shores of Isia Negra.
The themes in this collection of poems seem to me to speak of return — returning to the sea as source, of inspiration, of recollection, of longing, of memory; of acknowledging one's own insignificance in the palm of nature.
It is life and the elements: “I need the sea because it teaches me...” or “...everything is absorbed through weather and the sea...” or “I will have to wait for the fog, the flying salt, the scattered sun, for the sea to breathe and breathe on me...”
As Alastair recalls, Neruda called himself an armchair sailor. He never really swam much in the sea, but loved to walk the strands and fill his homes with an obsession of objects — ships in bottles, shells, ships' mascarones or figureheads. It was as if the sea surrounded him from both within and without.
My title for this volume came from this poem — “Forget about Me,” “No Me Hagan Caso.” I simply loved the music of that line, and the images it evoked.
Let us look for secret things somewhere in the world, on the blue shore of silence or where the storm has passed, rampaging like a train. There the faint signs are left, coins of time and water, debris, celestial ash and the irreplaceable rapture of sharing in the labor of solitude and the sand.
The themes also speak of the beauty of trying, however awkwardly or uncertainly, to reach beyond — to wrest meanings from tide wrack and sea flotsam, to nourish our sense of wonder as we reach toward the farther shore.
— © MARY HEEBNER
On The Blue Shore of Silence,
poems of the sea by Pablo Neruda