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.

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