^ Heidi Hahn, No more goodbyes for the Restless #2, 2019, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist.
OTP Short-Forms: Heidi Hahn
An interview with the New York-based painter ahead of her 2020 show at Nathalie Karg Gallery.
Interiority, Quiet Violence and Goya's Dog.
Hahn’s layered and sensual compositions read like a palimpsest of female loneliness. Dissipating among yellow washes and rich magentas the women Hahn depicts, in various scenes of mundane activity, seem jaded and almost nihilistic.
Born in a suburb of Los Angeles, Heidi Hahn moved to New York in the early 2000s to study at Copper Union. Graduating with a BFA in 2006, Hahn would later go on to receive her MFA in painting from Yale in 2016. Recent exhibitions include: Farenheit Madrid, Kohn Gallery and Monya Rowe Gallery. Heidi Hahn lives and works in Brooklyn.
OTP What’s important to you?
HH Integrity of materials. I use oil paint because of its tactile presence. I respect the nature of it and want to express its capabilities as much as possible in my work.
It begs to be felt, it’s a sort of desperate medium. The malleable nature of it wants to submit but its alchemy has a resistance.
Feeling connected to what I’m doing is very important, having an active relationship and an understanding of my decisions.
Failing is also very important to me, it liberates me to try things because I feel hopeless and I have nothing to lose, that to me is absolute freedom.
^ Heidi Hahn, Shame When Needed Comes from the Hand #6, 2019, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Farenheit Madrid.
OTP To what extent do you think female interiority is burdensome?
HH I think it can be when it’s not allowed to be seen in public, when the understanding of that interiority is seen as closed off and not intelligent.
I actually become very angry at work today that doesn’t express at least a little interiority with its content, when a painting is all artifice and image, especially when representing women. I find that mode tiresome and outdated.
I need to feel that I’m missing something when I see work, like I just have to give it more time and it will release its secrets.
OTP Would you say there are gothic elements in your work? Do you think your use of colour engages with ideas of gothicism?
HH I love this question because I have actually been thinking of this element in my work for a while, it might not be evident straight away but I think the gothic sentiment is always there, as part of the expression.
My color is bound by an idea of light, what makes it, where does it come from, where is it going.
Color for me is intuitive, I always have a certain shaded light in my work, like the light is coming from a dark place so its radiance is always a bit off.
^ Heidi Hahn, I am the experience that I seek II, 2015, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Jack Hanley Gallery.
OTP How relevant is violence to your practice?
HH I think the violence resides in the surface of the painting, the way the paint gets shifted and worked on the canvas.
The images are quite resigned, quiet, and still, the paint is the thing that gets to speak up and be rough.
You have to pay attention to the paint, it’s the thing that’s allowed to be aggressive.
OTP What was the last painting you saw that "shook" you?
HH I was recently at the Prado and saw the room of Goya’s black paintings from his home. Everything is so wrought but there is one painting in particular, The Dog.
It is simple and emotional, you are in a sea of ochre and you see this dog’s head, perhaps trying to come over a precipice, he is in turmoil and the violence in it is terrifying.
I often feel that way with Goya’s paintings, they are sickening, even when he’s rococo in the earlier work. But this painting, the makeshift nature of it, because it was transferred from a wall onto canvas, makes me feel very unpleasant.
Some of Paula Modersohn-Becker’s paintings have the same ability but in a different direction, the intimacy in the work breaks my heart, the strong presence of the hand grasps at me, same as Goya’s surfaces.
^ Heidi Hahn, No more goodbyes for the Restless #1, 2019, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist.
OTP Could you tell me a little bit about the series of paintings you are currently working on? Was there a particular image you used as a point of departure?
HH This body of work started out a bit differently, I didn’t really have a foundation or image to go off of. I was searching the whole time to find it and nothing was really standing out.
Usually I find something to be beholden to so it keeps me in check while I am working on twelve different canvases, but this time every painting wanted to go off in its own direction.
It made me feel unsettled, untethered which put me in a state of constant doubt, like how would these all work together when they want to be apart. At some point I had to give in and let the chaos become part of the theme.
OTP How would you characterise your relationship with the viewer of your work?
HH I can’t really have one, if I’m being honest with the work I kind of have to disregard everyone and just concentrate on what I want, which is selfish but it has to be that way.
I can only think afterword’s that perhaps I have communicated a truth that others might recognize as something that touches their own experience.
I think when the work is done I have to cut off any attachment I have to it, any expectation. I look at it coldly and see what I can take/leave behind for the next body of work.
^ Heidi Hahn, Burn Out in Shredded Heaven 10, 2018-2019, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist.
OTP What is the most interesting book you have read in the last 5 years?
HH This is tough because I read at least two books of fiction a week.
Most recently I’ve been into Rachel Cusk, Jean Rhys, Ben Lerner (not his newest book The Topeka School though) Yoko Yawada’s The Emissary, Chris Krause, I Can Give You Anything But Love by Gary Indiana is fantastic and heartbreaking, and I just finished all six books of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, which I enjoyed even when some parts where hard to get through or care about.
I read a lot because it pushes me into empathy, it also informs how I work in the studio. I am inspired by the construction of a good story, how it’s put together to create an encompassing atmosphere.
OTP Are there any artists whose work you are particularly excited right now?
Heidi Hahn's solo show Folded Venus / Pomaded Sweater will open at Nathalie Karg Gallery on February 19th 2020.
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