Dutch artist Marcelle Hanselaar’s work has a complex yet direct narrative that seems to exist between the unexplained and tangible. The artist’s oeuvre includes etchings and paintings and her distinctive style incorporates the sculptural quality of the great masters, through the lens of graphic neo-expressionist practice.
Shadow, line, and a sense of the plastic are composed within eerie scenes of displacement. A perfection of pigment and control in composition and placement create sense of haunting memory and as well a dramatic unfolding of narrative.
In oneiric worlds, sfumato mixes with phosphorus light, graphic lines and bold outlines and pigment allowing a tableau of drama to emerge: “I like my image to show a crucial point of an event without any explanation of what happened before or what will happen subsequently. This kind of direct confrontation in which the viewer becomes impacted before having time to consider the why, how, or wherefrom of the story is important.”
Each work is for Hanselaar, a problem or puzzle, she seeks to achieve a final product outside her “comfort zones.” While she studied briefly at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague she is a mainly self-taught painter and etcher. The artist begins her process with a sketch, often working in charcoal. Paintings start with a tonal ground in browns and reds or light green. The brush plots out the figure and imagery creating a “narrative mood.” A tendency towards reduction informs the final image, pigment is applied in thin layers and scraping is often part of the process.
The etchings do not originate with a final image in mind, but rather begin with freehand drawing, refined as she works.
She draws into a hard ground applied to a zinc plate and biting times and tonal build is decided as the artist goes, deleting and adding to the image using many grounds and layers in a process that seems much like painting. Within reside references to the work of Rembrandt, Goya, Dix, Picasso, and William Kentridge.
Recent projects include Northsea, a project made during the Covid 19 lockdown as well as The Crying Game, a suite of 30 etchings focused on human rights and protest and made after Otto Dix’ War series.
Much of the painterly work is distinguished by a rawness to line and color, calibrated into an evocative style that has the power and intimacy of the canonical Expressionists, and yet remains distinctly contemporary. Scenes appear as if vignettes of a nightmare, desolate landscapes punctuated by ghostly figures and moments that are surreal and shift into the night. Symbolic figures and iconic imagery create a sense of mysterious import, their meaning somehow fluid and potent.
Of personal events, Hanselaar recalls that the death of her parents changed her approach leading her in part to begin to focus on figuration. She shares that therapy allowed her to focus and explore her drawings which are the basis of the etching: “When drawing in my isolated studio , I become fearless and greatly emboldened, not only speaking for myself but from a collective point of view. My challenge is to make myself and others to reflect, to question and to be made slightly uncomfortable. Female artists have a different voice than male artists and we add a clear, loud voice which for a very long time has been lacking.”
Hanselaar’s extraordinary artistic practice is of classic modernism, expert handling of pigment and form, graphic line coupled with a boldly intimate and eerie sense of the world, an imagining of places that occupy dreams and memories -scenes of allegory and mythic symbolism.
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