The works of two Occidental College faculty artists are featured in two new Southern California exhibitions that opened this month.
Linda Besemer: StrokeRollFoldSheetSlabGlitch, the first survey of the paintings of Linda Besemer, Occidental’s James Irvine Distinguished Professor of Art and Art History, opened February 12 at Cal State Long Beach’s Carolyn Campagna Kleefled Contemporary Art Museum. The show in the museum’s Main Gallery will run through June 25.
Cosmic Trace, a four-artist show that includes the work of Mary Beth Heffernan, professor of art and art history at Occidental, also opened February 12 at Tiger Strikes Asteroid’s gallery in Los Angeles’ Fashion District. Cosmic Trace will run through March 5.
Besemer, an American abstract painter celebrated for their stunning, optical works that upend commonly held notions of what makes a painting, has taught and painted at Occidental since 1987. Featuring almost two dozen works from 1993-2021, the exhibition showcases key moments in their career, tracing the evolution of their practice from early traditional gestural abstraction, exploring their “detachables” works, and culminating with their most recent glitch series. The show also delves into Besemer’s process through a collection of the artist’s maquettes, annotated drawings, and gouache color studies.
Besemer, whose work was featured in the 2000 Whitney Biennial Exhibition and exhibited at The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and other major venues, is also the recipient of Occidental’s Graham L. Sterling Memorial Award, the College’s top honor for professional achievement.
In Cosmic Trace, Heffernan explores questions of physicality and representation in her exquisite photograms, observing “like the photograph itself, cremains are an alchemic state suspended between presence and absence.” To create a series of performative drawings called “Ashes,” Heffernan “drew” around the body of her fellow Art Professor Amy Lyford, who was lying on large sheets of photographic paper, with Lyford’s mother’s cremains.
Once the drawing was complete, the paper was exposed to light. In this way, the work became a record not only of the performative act of drawing with “ashes,” but also a record of the relationship between presence and absence of the body of the living person and their deceased mother.
Heffernan has taught at Occidental since 2002. In 2019 her internationally lauded PPE Portrait Project was put on permanent exhibit at the Welcome Collection in London. Heffernan’s art is included in numerous private and public collections, including The Huntington Library, the Hammer Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the New York City Library.