EASELWORDS, The Jackdaw May/June issue
Marcelle Hanselaar – Walking the line
Head of a Negro is a tiny, 27×21 cm, gem of a painting by Govert Flinck, one of my favorite finds in Barcelona. For me it ticks all the boxes of what painting really is about. Nothing really happens, and yet you want to crawl inside it to discover its secrets.
The subject is a portrait of a black man. He is well dressed, obviously a man of standing, wearing the uniform of the civic militia guards. The painting is beautifully executed, too fine for a mere sketch and yet it is a portrait of the back of his head. You would think that if this man commissioned his own portrait it would be of his face, to show his character and standing. The fact that he is looking away from the viewer makes it actually such an intriguing portrait. His looking away could mean many things but for me it suggests a sense of not belonging because although he looks like other 17C soldiers he is not like them. Because he is black.
About a year ago I found myself in a bit of an impasse with my painting.Having reached the end of the line within a certain subject matter is something all artists struggle with, the what next, what now kind of bind. Happily when I can’t paint there is always etching, so I threw myself into printmaking because drawing has always been a very direct and unselfconscious form of expression for me.
This was the time of the Arab spring with its wave of demonstrations, protests and civil wars, a movement which strongly affected me. Civil war, in which ordinary people are forced to act like soldiers, creates a kind of confrontation, morally and socially which most of us fear.Facing up to that creates a loss of innocence. Chaos, civil war and innocence became the theme of a series of six prints, Loss of innocence, followed by several paintings after Govert Flinck’s Head of a Negro.
One day, I took an unfinished painting, slapped cadmium red over the image and loosely drew a head of a black man over it. Realizing that the vulnerability of the neck I had drawn made him look like a boy I gave him a helmet like Mickey Mouse hat. The image of Child soldier was born.
Some time ago an artist friend suggested to make my paintings more like my etchings but I muttered that I did not know how to do that. In my head the two worlds of drawing and painting were separate, a different ‘me’ was activated in drawing then in painting, besides I felt I lacked the skill to paint as I drew. Luckily remarks made by fellow artists often do take seed.
Adoration, uniformity, the phenomena of crowds, the kind of subjects which had given me a lot of glee and leeway in my Ways of the world and We’re all bleeding prints have long fascinated me. With paintings like Beckmann’s Die Nacht or Mãdchenzimmer and compositions like Rembrandt’s drawing John the Baptist preaching in the back of my head plus a newfound disregard for where drawing ended or painting started I now became the spectator, not the point of focus in the subject matter of these new paintings. New doors of perception had opened.
Marcelle Hanselaar – Walking the Line
3 May to 14 June 2013
Kings Place Gallery, 90 York Way London N1 9AG
Open Fri/Sat/Sun 10-6 and by appointment