Burn Out in Shredded Heaven
Kohn Gallery is very pleased to announce its first solo exhibition by New York-based artist and painter Heidi Hahn, opening on April 6 and on view through May 23, 2019. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Hahn creates introspective paintings that engage with the female body. Her sumptuously atmospheric and layered application of paint, in conversation with art-historical traditions, draw the viewer into a psychological space that evokes our attachment to the female form and how that is processed through both traditional and contemporary readings of the male gaze. Hahn incites the sinuous lines of Edvard Munch, the soak-stained expressionism of Helen Frankenthaler, and the raw symbolism of late-Guston, all the while establishing a truly distinctive voice of today–aware of what came before, but also untethered to it. Gestural, fluid, and frequently spectral, Hahn’s works reframe and re-contextualize her subjects, exploring the ambiguous and shifting boundaries between public and private selves.
Heidi Hahn’s work presented in Burn Out in Shredded Heaven, as noted by curator Diana Nawi, splits the difference between the imagistic and evocative qualities of painting, between its ability to construct narrative and its desire to evade language altogether. Her images relay iconically depicted female figures set against loosely rendered backgrounds that can suggest a real location—a city street, a subway, a bathroom, a bedroom—or give only a hint of site within what is an otherwise largely abstract surface. This ambiguous treatment of ground evidences the artist’s refusal of specificity, her purposeful confusion of temporalities, bodies, and of interior and exterior as place and metaphor. The women pictured, elongated and somewhat lumpy—their barely insinuated faces hard to read beneath their heavy hair—suggest not so much particular people as symbolic figures who have conjured their own settings, which in turn seem to be mental states as much as places, alienated, melancholy, intimate, and fleeting. Hahn’s figures reference women in her life, including her friends, mother, and sister, but they become archetypal and often amusingly cartoonish in her hands, their import derived largely from the distinct affective resonance of the painting. The artist deploys a range of visuality—canvases can be minimal, almost color field paintings, or lavish, awash with patterning, details, and dynamic brushwork—to give life to her recurrent women. While we cannot know them, we might sense the (inner) world they inhabit.
Hahn constructs her paintings beginning with a figurative image painted directly onto the canvas; she does not create preparatory drawings, preferring instead to sketch with paint. She often paints the same image on multiple canvases—up to ten at a time—and then works across the canvases simultaneously. Some paintings maintain the structure suggested by the artist’s initial outline, but most morph into radically different compositions, becoming singular elements in a larger body of related works. This mode of working reflects two critical things about the artist’s practice: her understanding of representation and abstraction, and her abiding belief in the process of painting.
Hahn has described abstraction as a mode of “falling apart”—something that was once clear and articulable dissolving. While she begins with a specific representation, each work is determined by an improvisational process and the materiality of paint, which in the artist’s hands runs the gamut from silky dark outlines and inky washes of color to thick impasto topographies and lustrous looping brushstrokes. Hahn offers a deeply painterly version of illustrative tendencies that call to mind the work of such artists such as Joan Brown, Ezra Jack Keats, and Henri Matisse. The resulting paintings bear traces of previous gestures, evidenced in sketchily marked lines visible below thin fields of pigment and in palimpsests of overpainting. They are works that find their own logics in the possibility of paint.
Hahn’s paintings are seemingly simple narratives and elusive, expansive images. Painting here is beyond language, an amalgamation of color, texture, gesture, line, and surface that conveys as much about states of being as a story ever could. Each woman Hahn depicts is in a world unto herself—each painting an embodiment of this world.
Recently, Hahn’s work was included in the group exhibition Pulse at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, KS that ran from November 2018 through February 2019. Hahn was previously included in the gallery’s group exhibition last fall titled Engender.
Born 1982 Los Angeles, CA
Lives and works in Brooklyn, NY
2014 MFA in Painting, Yale University, New Haven, CT
2006 BFA, The Cooper Union, New York, NY