Two Coats of Paint: Heidi Hahn’s bold challenge to figuration

by Jonathan Stevenson
On one level, in “Flex, Rot, and Sp(l)it,” a penetrating and conceptually cohesive show of paintings at Nathalie Karg Gallery, Heidi Hahn visually chronicles the tension between the unavoidable confinement of the body and the irrepressible expansiveness of the mind. While the so-called mind-body problem is as old as philosophy itself, to Western audiences it is perhaps most resonant in René Descartes’ exercise of systematic doubt, concluding with “I think therefore I am.” In terms of value, this ingrained formulation privileges the mind over the body. While philosophers are left to connect mental processes with gray matter, for painters and others it can be discomfiting to realize that although thinking is supposed to be the essence of being, a person’s mind is often prejudged on the basis of their body’s characteristics. 
As a painter, Hahn confronts this distortion head-on. Her artist statement for the show opens with the lament that “my body has been used against me.” Ultimately, she asks, “does a painting of a woman have to be the propagation of the feminine ideal – which typically has been inviting, giving, erotic and comforting – an expectation that perpetuates women as image. Perhaps the paint can be a placeholder for a different acceptance.” From her point of view, figurative painting has become too acquiescent to hidebound tradition, hence too easy. Its constraining orthodoxy has failed to track the prevailing consensus – notwithstanding some notably retrogressive impulses in public and legal discourse – that the body does not, and certainly should not, comprehensively define who a person is. 


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December 21, 2022