The Recto/Verso photograms were made without the use of camera or film. A single page from a mass-circulation magazine was placed in direct contact with color photographic paper and exposed to light. The resulting image superimposes the visual and verbal information from the front and back of the magazine page. No collage, manipulation, or other handwork was employed.

Recto/Verso was published by Landweber/Artists in 1989 in an edition of fifty plus ten artist's proof sets. The portfolio is composed of twelve original 11"x14" Cibachrome photograms, signed by the artist and presented in 16"x20" museum-board mats. The prints are boxed in a hand-made, archival-quality case that also contains a vintage, numbered copy from the original edition of Heinecken's 1968 Are You Rea portfolio of twenty-five 10"x13" lithographs.

Twelve writers were each asked to address one of the Recto/Verso photograms. Their texts are printed on document-grade vellum slipsheets that overlay the prints. Alex Sweetman was invited to write a new introduction to Heinecken's Are You Rea portfolio, and his text is included with the lithographs. The writers include:

Claire Peeps
Lynn McLanahan Herbert
Susie Cohen
Irene Borger
Van Deren Coke
Joyce Fernandes
Anne Tucker
A. Grundberg & J. Scully
Bill Jay
Mark Johnstone
A.D. Coleman
James Enyeart
Alex Sweetman

Recto/Verso #1
Recto/Verso #1
Click the image to see it larger.
Comments by Claire Peeps, Executive Director, Astro Arts, the non-profit publisher of High Performance Magazine, Los Angeles CA

is an apt description of Heinecken's modus operandi. I don't believe any other artist has managed, with such consistency or clarity, to see through photography or to so effectively stand the media on its ear.

Here, for instance. The latent text of a fashion advertisement becomes apparent when viewed as a matrix for its verso page. The lady is a tiger; it's as simple as that. Something wild, feline, dangerous lies behind those glasses, rests deceptively on that elegant, gloved arm. It's so obvious, really, that one can;t help feeling a little embarrassed by the revelation. Why do we fall for it every time?

In a simple gesture, Heinecken uses photography against itself. He inverts the medium, turns it inside out, to reveal just how it goes about its business of persuasion. Where we have come to trust the photographic images as an opaque, definitive representation of the world, he reminds us that the medium is about transparency, subjectivity, and perspective. His choice of the photogram to convey this message is logical; it is a uniquely photographic process that creates its image indiscriminately from the layering of other objects or images. For Heinecken, this "seeing through" process penetrates to the real substance of advertising: manipulation and prevarication.

The politics of publication equal the politics of consumption; we get our information about the world more or less in proportion to what we are willing to buy from it. The ad industry's cool, slick photographs provide the financial foundation for our sophisticated communications systems. However, they also propagate greed, lust, and a false idealism about youthful beauty, and this inevitably complicates the way in which we receive and process information from magazines and TV. Heinecken makes these issues clear. Provocation and desire, the mainstays of media's working vocabulary, are evident in his magazine pages as elements of a different text, one which instructs the viewer to read images more incisively.

Heinecken's work has a do-it-yourself impact — so that when flipping through copies of Newsweek, Vogue, or Vanity Fair, one begins to see the pages as transparencies, just as he does. And suddenly one sees these overlapping matrices in which

South Africa / Clinique
/ Belfast
Kuwait / Guess
White Linen
/ Washington, DC
Bhopal / Poison

Make the world seem a smaller, more lopsided place.

Maybe the lady is a tiger, but it's really the media that's out for the big kill.


— Claire Peeps


Recto/Verso #2
Click the image to see it larger.
  Random Harvest
Comments by Lynn McLanahan Herbert, New York NY

Fortuna despaired. Would she remain forever undiscovered, immaterial? So many thumbs had pushed her aside. So many moistened index fingers had turned her over. So many eyes had looked right at her, but none had seen her.

Suddenly, in a flash, she was torn from her spine. Bound no more, a tingle of excitement went through her. Eager with anticipation, she waited nervously in the darkness that pervades between stacked pages.

The door opened, and with a click a light box illuminated the room. One by one the pages above her passed over the light box in rapid succession. The process seemed to be so instantaneous. What could this process be? Then she was "on." The light shot through her. For the first time in her life she felt alive, as though she had a reason for being, as though by chance her life had taken on a new meaning. Thrilled, she looked up. Two bespectacled eyes were looking right through her. She smiled. She blushed, exposed.


— Lynn McLanahan Herbert


Recto/Verso #3
Click the image to see it larger.
  A Taste of Spring
Comments by Susie Cohen, Rochester NY

Some years ago I experienced a death in my family, and in my grief I wrote to my friend Robert Heinecken that, if given the chance, I would trade him to the devil to get back the person I had lost. Heinecken replied, "If the devil makes deals, I would want to remain high on your list for trafficking in this instance or any other you may suggest." I appreciated that Heinecken took my expression of grief seriously; it did help. But while my proposition to Heinecken was tendered in extreme circumstance, his response was not. Beyond the support of friendship, his answer suggest a willingness, even an eagerness, to entertain firsthand and unconditionally what is frequently pictured in his art as a relative term — the force of evil.

Heinecken situates his moral values circumstantially, a philosophy he learned as the son and grandson of ministers whose vocations were disrupted by their disinclination to swallow The Word whole. In his art, Heinecken also proposes a situational ethic as an alternative to the secular trinity of beauty/sex/love. Much of Heinecken's work recontextualizes imagery he appropriates from the mass media. By placing commercial images into aesthetic contexts, translating images from one medium or process into another, or by juxtaposing, layering, or sequencing images, he exposes the covert, simplistic, and often demeaning messages that are grafted onto commercial and editorial graphics.

A Taste of Spring is a case in point. The front and back of a magazine page have been printed together as one, each image supplying the other with a new context. The first image, about exercise, confirms a decades-old notion about slenderness as an aspect of external beauty. The overlay, about the preparation of asparagus, partakes of a more recent, but allied, concern with internal fitness. Neither image alone seems particularly objectionable. The exercising woman is in a vulnerable position, but presumably for greater personal benefit. Vegetables don't provoke much controversy on any level. The combined image, however, is very disturbing — the more so because its delicate pastels, rhyming shapes, and balanced composition are lovely.

In the top half of the new image, the once innocuous vegetables become gigantic phalluses, penetrating the female figure. These are spears indeed, suggesting violence visually and linguistically. The lower half is even more abusive. An enormous knife blade slices through four prone female silhouettes, calling to mind too many thrillers in which women are the victims of violence evoked by or enhancing deranged sexuality.

In printing the combined image, it might seem that Heinecken is responsible for unleashing a new and horrific message, but consider this: like so much else in the modern world, the glance of the eye has been speeded up. A Taste of Spring is nothing more or less than freezing the act of turning a page or of switching channels. The new image arrests and makes manifest what was latent in its sources: the warping of self-worth, the corruption of health into sickness.

To personify the devil is an act of the imagination. For me, it was a metaphor after-the-fact to grasp the almost unfathomable way things have of sometimes going very badly. It is a metaphor for Heinecken too, but one toward which he takes an aggressive stance. Many of Heinecken's pieces are literally reproductions of the devil's playground: the compressions, superimpositions, and ellipses of verbal/visual information with which we are inundated and which spawn half truths, hasty judgments, and easy answers. In each work, Heinecken risks that his imperative to observe, understand, and expose the operation of evil will be taken for complicity with it. And, since the prevailing aesthetic environment calls for a close and explicit reading of gender politics, the stakes are high. But Heinecken is a gambler, playing the odds that if he can hold the lines steady, people will read between them.


— Susie Cohen


Recto/Verso #4
Click the image to see it larger.

  Recto/Verso #4
Contribution by Irene Borger, Santa Monica CA

"The debunking of love and eroticism is an undertaking that has wider implications than one might think. As soon as a single myth is touched, all myths are in danger."

— Simone de Beauvoir
Brigitte Bardot and the Lolita Syndrome

Mythology so deep in the bones it's Strontium 90. Or, if you prefer, Fay Wray running from King Kong.

You know how women lure sailors, cause men to veer off course. Straight lines, straight men, ship wrecks, home wrecks, let's call the whole thing Descartes.

It was your eyes. It was the way you took me in with your eyes.

Her hair. A force of nature, dark, untamed. Entre chien et loup. That wrist, bent like the David, turns back toward the body. An invitation to touch. That shoulder nudged upward: Rita Hayworth in Life Magazine.

She is waiting for you, always. Thinking of you, lying on fresh sheets, she pretends you are undressing her, stroking her sweet jelly roll. With your mouth, (your hands, your eyes).

So the mouth then, Vagina dentata. Painted vulva. Trench. Gash. Cave. Can't you ever look away?

I am, you wrote, "the best She." This time I have the pen.

Fire, earthquake, tsunami, tornado. When a woman asks for a lipstick, it means she's feeling better, the Red Cross manual said. Cross my heart. After the flood. I swear.

Dante wrote that the mouth is where love ends. It begins, he said, in the eyes.

My friend had a bottle of Jack Daniels in his pocket. Etta James was up on stage singing "I'd rather go blind than see you walk away from me." We were finished. B.B. King came on. He sang "The Thrill is Gone." I drank King Cobra and lip-synched the words.

All those people who think you're so gruff/tough, have no firsthand knowledge of your touch. Talk to me.

The point, as I see it, of pin the tail on the donkey is not to place the thumbtack on the perfect spot but to trust the blindfolding, the spin into altered state, the ecstatic wandering.

Blindfolding. A hand of cards:
nuclear blast
firing squad
bar on Tenth Avenue
de Sade
That look at the solar eclipse

I was on an island, alone for three days. The forest floor was cold. It rained. I was frozen. Energy flooded my palms. My hands, made electric, kept me alive. I flew back to the city, still in that animal grace, with tickets to the Hermitage show. My body led me to one Picasso, a couple of Gauguins. The best seeing is never done with the eyes.

L-o-o-k into my e-y-e-s. You are growing s-l-e-e-p-y. (You are in my
p-o-w-e-r). So what are the rules now?

"My father had the girl friend," he said, "and one night, unannounced, he brought her home to dinner. My mother was at the stove cooking this big pot of spaghetti and sauce. She took one look at the two of them, and poured the whole mess of sauce all over herself." This girl friend. This big pot of spaghetti sauce.

You make me feel. You make me feel. You make me feel like a natural woman. Wo-man.

It's about physiology really. His blood rushes into his testicles, she faints from lack of oxygen, stays pulled just too tight. Chemistry of scent, paint on the skin. Conjure it again, white boy.

Know the joke about the Pope who only wanted to make love with a blind-deaf woman so she wouldn't be able to hear or see his desire? You, like Bergman, a minister's son.

"Ad Reinhardt was wonderful character who thought that there wasn't anything lower, there wasn't anything more ludicrous, there wasn't anything more embarrassing than the relationship between a work of art and the story like the one we're going into now. What has my going to bed with Frank O'Hara got to do with the moment that I'm standing in front of my canvas or a piece of paper with a pencil or a brush?"

— Larry Rivers,
Drawings and Digressions

You rip up a magazine I write for.

Do you still have the grey silk scarves?


— Irene Borger


Recto/Verso #5
Click the image to see it larger.
  Recto/Verso #5
Comments by Van Deren Coke, Santa Fe NM

This picture is similar to Heinecken's typical work of the late 1960's. His stance at that time could be termed "deconstructive subversion," for he would use advertising photographs for raw material which would be manipulated by various means to arrive at social commentary. Often he would choose images of behaviors that had roots in a collective fantasy that could be exploited to sell a product. He would seek an ironic response to the imprisoning nature of advertisements, especially those that focused on the sexual attraction between men and women. For a brief moment, this kind of imagery lets us into the world of his/her responses that Heineken knows will stir hormones. But he quickly departs from such a reverie by shifting our perceptions of commonplace things and situations to make them more telling. He understands how advertisers and dress designers package the natural female form to suit their need to create the illusion that a woman can be titillating if only she will use a certain perfume, adorn herself with jewelry, or wear a certain provocative dress. Heinecken;s juxtapositions and shifts of scale relationship and viewpoint help to create an undercurrent of irony, a quality often evident in his work of this period.

All sorts of ideas are triggered by this image, but the paramount impression is that we are dealing with the baleful energies unleashed by sexual attraction. Lying slightly submerged, as if in the clear water of the cranial cavity, is a jumble of shapes and colors that hint at the melancholic joys that accompany the pangs of love and lust. We decipher visual clues to memories that stir passion, whether in daydreams or that appear while sleeping — in what Nabokov called "libidreams."

In other words, inner feelings are evoked that range from an instinctive sexual response to a yearning for the satisfaction of a long-term romantic relationship. If we were to assign words to these states of mind, some of them would be illusion, arousal, suggestiveness, glamour, excitement, and desire.

Whatever the intended impact of this image, Heinecken;s layered magazine pages tend to give the impression of a speeded-up flow of events involving both passion and fantasy. The question then arises: is the artist's response a reflexive one based on actual past events, or is this picture meant to convey the rush of impressions that flood the mind when a desirable person is observed or imagined, causing a condition of sexual arousal? Perhaps we are experiencing only a memory, a cluster of associations focused on a certain person. Can this paradoxical multifaceted picture be the invention of a frustrated or teased mind at odds with the true potential of such a relationship?

Heinecken has used the photogram to make the separate images on the front and back of a magazine page visible in superimposition. This device creates a jigsaw puzzle of clues to get our attention, then twists around our senses to an awareness of the idiosyncrasies of human behavior. These divergent meanings become the focus of our contemplation — a release into fiction where an array of assumptions coalesces into a significance special to each of us.


— Van Deren Coke

Victor Landweber
Send Email to victor @