‘Marcelle Hanselaar is a Rotterdam-born figurative painter who, since 1981 has been based in a studio near Victoria where the sculptor Hubert Beavis made the celebrated statue of Sir Thomas More on Chelsea Embankment. She studied fashion drawing in the Hague during the early 1960s but discontinued the course to become an artists model and to travel the Orient on foot in a romantic search for spiritual enlightenment. This child of the sixties ended up in a Zen Buddhist monastery and even today the connection continues in that her basement studio is below the Eccleston Square Buddhist Centre.
Hanselaar’s figures are imaginative projections fuelled by her psychosexual inner life. There is nothing precious or idealised about these usually nude and female single figures. They are isolated beings turning in on the self, a place of refuge or solace from an enveloping air of menace. In fact there are macabre surrealist undertones in ‘Hairy Beauty’, ‘The Watchers’ or ‘Bed of Nails’. These disturbing – or disturbed – figures have something of the ugly realism of Otto Dix and in this regard her work belongs to a northern expressionist vein very different to the idealised classicism of the south.
Hanselaar is in permanent exile from her native Holland in more ways than one for her work, despite its northern European corporeality, ticks few Dutch art historical boxes. The Dutch achievement in art, 17th century still life, low country landscapes with big skies and, the twentieth century, the neo-plasticism of the de Stijl movement, is nowhere to be seen in Hanselaar though the breathing presence of Rembrandt’s and Hals’s portraiture has always moved her. Her forays into Cornwall, though the Millennium Gallery hosts her first solo in the Duchy she has hitherto shown at Truro’s Artonomy, are refreshing in that the figure as an emotive symbol – where social, sexual or spiritual – has nevertheless recurred in Cornish art in terms of the early anecdotal Newlyn School, the inter-war portraitist like Leonard Fuller, the Knights or the Proctors, the post-war emigres Karl Weschke and Albert Reuss and of course in the irreverent late work of Roger Hilton.
A Hanselaar nude therefore wears its heart on its sleeve, or rather skin; her subjects are embodiments of the artists own psychological preoccupations and are metaphors of psychic disjointedness. They are freely painted and favour glazes rather than impasto. They are essentially types of self portrait, though not literally so, and follow Elizabeth Frink and Paula Rego in projecting the self through scenes that appear to be anything but. True to her Zen philosophy Hanselaar transcends the ego of individuality to reach a generic statement concerning the fragile sanity and balance of psychic life in the modern secular and materialistic world. Hanselaar, incorrectly, has been linked to Rego though her masterly etchings (she is a member of the Royal Society of painter Printmakers) have the wildness of Goya. The pictures are closer to Beckmann, as well as Dix, than to Rego.
Whether art should, as Matisse contends, console us at the end of the day or offer a direct assault on our sensibility, as Bacon insisted, there is a consensus we can all sign up to, namely that art should stand formally and thematically on its own feet while offering the viewer the leeway of his or her own interpretation. Hanselaar succeeds in this. Another great figure, Picasso is emulated when Hanselaar combines sexually explicit and introspective or contemplative poses in the same picture. She also cleverly draws on blue period melancholia and on raging impotent-defying expressionism of the late Picasso.
The show runs at Millennium, Street-An-Pol, St Ives until November 24th