11.6.17 — Here, Now, and Elsewhere

Heidi Hahn has seen better days, but it is hard to say when. Meantime, her women just do the best they can, and her art insists that women can define their public and private image.

They read, check the phone yet again, or even paint. They hang out together without paying one another the least attention, as roommates do by necessity—especially those with smart phones. They try to get some rest or to get off the floor, beneath a clock that is right at least twice a day. They take insistent walks even in the rain.

Heidi Hahn's The Future Is Elsewhere (If It Breaks Your Heart) (Jack Hanley gallery, 2017)They seem, in short, not terribly good at taking care of themselves, but who knows? The rain seems to miss them entirely, even if they cannot manage an umbrella. It could interfere with their determined stride. Sometimes the sun comes out at that, and the showers bring a flower, just as in the proverbs and promises. It is a lone and rather schematic flower, much like the lone and schematic women, and the walker acknowledges it no more than the cloud, but why should she? Hahn has looked inward to discover both.

She, too, is just going about her business whatever her mood, at Jack Hanley through November 12. She calls the series The Future Is Elsewhere (If It Breaks Your Heart), but she sticks to the here and now. The title sticks to the vernacular as well, with the deeply felt illogic of many a song. Hahn’s past shows have spoken of sadness, uncertain love, and looking to herself for raw experience, with what could pass for still more song titles. They have also had swirling colors and crowds out of a nightmare or dark ritual. Here she sets aside the otherworldly and the overstatement in search of the personal and the everyday.

She does so, though, with anything but everyday colors. Her silhouettes run to deep pinks and purples, face down or in profiles that flatten them all the more. She also hides their faces, with a loss of individuality that could stand for generalization or pain. The style is duly expressive, a bit like German Expressionism, but closer still to the passion of Paul Gauguin in Brittany. He, too, sought the future and an elsewhere, and he, too, had mixed feelings about the female body. Like Hahn, he found it ever so sensual but also something of a burden.

It shows in his fields of color. Their flattening can make them iconic or disembodied. (Historians have looked to their “primitivism” for a greater sensuality, but also for a French Catholic education and a revulsion at the flesh.) The urgent questions also appear in his most epic painting after his move to Tahiti: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Its many women could represent the course of a single lifetime, much as Hahn’s social gatherings might be a gathering of one.

Her fields of color bring the work alive, just as for him, but with a subtle difference. Gauguin sometimes ironed his oils to flatten them further, but Hahn is not hiding her textures and her brushwork. (Then again, could Gauguin’s ironing have created scars like these?) She leaves in place, too, the thickening from paint drops, to lend her forms their structure and fluidity. Hahn leaves their clothes on as well. They can get sentimental, like many a pop song, but she owns them and owns up.

Read more, now in a feature-length article on this site.

1 Comment »

  1. John,
    I agree with you that the flattening of color fields make these figures iconic similar to how Gauguin paints his figures. They also become mildly stylized which makes them at once both seized in time and also enlivened in a way that is both fluid and lyrical, also much like Gauguin. Thanks for covering this exhibition and while I won’t be able to get in to see it before it closes, it makes me want to learn more about Hahn.

    I’m an artist and have written reviews for a couple newspapers, most recently one in the Boston area. It’s a labor of love for which I don’t get paid much but I do it because it’s important for artists to have press coverage and so many good exhibitions come and go that don’t get reviewed, so I’ve stepped to bring their work into the public eye in a way that I hope brings them in to look at the work more closely.

    John, thank you for doing what you do. As I said on Cheryl McGinnis’ Smart Start webinar, the world–and not just the art world–has need of you. I’ve been reading your reviews and I appreciate exactly how you do what you do.

    All best,

    Comment by Kathleen Trestka — 11.8.17

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