Artseen: Heidi Hahn: Flex, Rot, and Sp(l)it

by Louis Block

What makes figure painting so daunting? Is it that our eyes are more attuned to inconsistencies in anatomy than in other fields? I think it has to do with the paint itself. Paint works more like weather than like an organism: it moves in sheets, rivulets, floods, and accretions—it doesn’t branch out, or grow, or bend. Figure painting is impressive by default because it makes the medium into something contrary to its nature. But Heidi Hahn’s paintings of solitary figures achieve something rare by forming believable pictures of people while remaining true to the medium’s tendencies.


I saw some of Hahn’s canvases at an open studio this spring, leaning against the walls, butting up against each other, reeking of oil, encircling a floor of stained newsprint—mostly pages of this paper. It was an arena where it seemed layers were applied in tandem, where an entire series could be worked at for months and then all resolved in just a few hours. The canvases were bodies by default, stacked, caught in steps of description. But these eight paintings at Nathalie Karg are each resolved in different ways, their layering so complex as to make me question what I saw in that studio. I do not know how these paintings work, so I can only describe some of their mysteries.


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December 15, 2022