Sunday, 10 July 2022

Marcelle Hanselaar

Marcelle Hanselaar: back to front face

It's strange how you miss out on certain artists, especially ones that have been making wonderful images for years and that have been shown regularly. Marcelle Hanselaar is one of those artists I have somehow missed and shouldn't have. She has long been making consistently powerful images and at times they are almost too visceral to look at. She unflinchingly takes on the horrors perpetuated by a patriarchal society, her metaphors sting, but help to clean out the stalls at the same time. She is still working and showing and if you get a chance to see her work in the flesh, go and see it, it is etched into being both metaphorically and literally.

Getting ready

Le Retour Futile 5, 2021, oil on canvas, 24 x 18 cm

It is her ability to get the most out of simple things that I really like. For instance 'Back to front face' is a really basic idea but done with panache and conviction. 'Getting ready' is again a pretty straightforward image that is given a twist by the fingers cutting into the hair as if they are some sort of agricultural equipment, the three straps of her dress awkwardly echoing the four finger divided hair lengths. But why the strange shadow/lighting drama?The single eye looking back at us suggests this woman is getting ready for something more sinister than a party. 'Le Retour Futile' is simply poetic, a restricted colour palette and paired down image that is mysteriously romantic. 


Scar is a deceptively simple painting, by paring the image down to the pink line of the scar, she makes something far more intriguing than perhaps it ought to be. I look at it and I'm thinking about painting and the work of those non figurative painters like Barnett Newman who's zips now begin to feel much more embodied things. The flatness debate around painting is transcended into something about wounds and backbones and how close to the surface and yet hidden pain can be. We stand with our faces to the wall too as we gaze at the back of the woman, our heads, like hers, close to a surface that we introspectively inspect.
Her etchings are perhaps what she is most well known for. They deal with drama and action in a very direct way, often celebrating the role that women can take in fighting back and taking control of situations that have often been dominated by aggressive men.

The crying game

Now that Paula Rego has died perhaps we will see more of Marcelle Hanselaar, a Dutch artist living in London rather than a Portuguese one. Like Rego, Hanselaar can tap into mythic layers of that strange thing that we call life. Rego has for many years occupied the territory so well, that for one reason or another other similar artists have been overshadowed. I will be posting a tribute to Rego and her work in the near future, and was reminded how good she was both by visiting her  exhibition at Victoria Miro last year and seeing her contribution to this year's Venice Biennale. 

Paula Rego: Gluttony 

I'll leave you therefore with an image of Rego's work from Venice. A timely reminder of how good she was. I believe that the gravitas of her imagery was partly due to the making of models to work from. The strangeness of reality can be translated much more powerfully if you have something about your work that grounds it in that very reality that you find strange. Like Paula Rego, Marcelle Hanselaar has that ability and now that I have discovered her work I shall make sure I keep a look out for it in future. 

See also:

Recent paintings at Aleph Contemporary

Drawing in colour

Paula Rego’s ‘Dancing Ostriches’

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