The Hole is proud to announce the first solo show with the gallery by artist Matt Hansel entitled “Giving Up the Ghost”. Hansel has participated in thematic group exhibitions with the gallery the past two years that have focused on how digital tools have impacted painting; however, this summer, he stretches out to fill the entire main space with major new oil paintings. In Giving Up the Ghost Hansel exhibits three types of work that are from the same meditation on art history and the role of the painter in modern life; shaped canvas still lifes, ocean paintings and half-painted canvasses.
In what are perhaps his best known works—wave distorted Dutch still life paintings—Hansel originated his approach to updating famous works from art history with a technologically assisted distortion. Skulls, grapes, half-peeled lemons; and now lobsters, melons, tankards of ale, all sort of quasi-familiar from Heda, De Heem, Claesz or other Flemish masters are rendered pretty accurately, like a student faithfully copying their master in the atelier. They aren’t a perfect recreation but give you the flavor so to speak, and of course the meat of the matter is the distortion. Not just the image but the whole canvas structure has a wave going through it. Unlike Holbein’s analog anamorphism, Hansel uses digital tools to take our misremembered museum memories into a new era of imagery.
The second type of painting exhibited here is another form of art historical update featuring the stormy seas of late Romantic painting. Building on his last sea-focused exhibition at Yours Mine & Ours gallery last year, Hansel here raises choppy green waters under stormy skies. Porcelain figurines—often stand-ins for the viewer—watch from a safe distance, while in another work a depiction of the artist at their easel is quite out to sea. One intrepid group of Napoleonic figurines brave the waters; the ridiculously caped horsed figures prepare for battle, but the beautiful luminescence of the waves around them looks like the storm has already passed.
The final works in the exhibition are disappearing Delacroix. In these works (including the above image) a large expanse of raw linen dominates the piece and only the lower half or third of the canvas is painted. At the bottom of each canvas, writhing lions and horses and men jostle together, excerpted from the famous works of Eugene Delacroix, whose recent major exhibition at the MET many New Yorkers will have fresh in memory. Humorously grouping together incongruous characters and settings—while also throwing in a few paint brushes and easels—Hansel depicts a mish-mash of familiar moments as if they were disappearing, or perhaps still loading. The exciting bits of the artwork look like they have sunk down into the bottom of the work, the image has “settled” and the bottom section is the concentrate.
What does it mean to treat art history in this way? The various distortions have the effect of blurring our memories of the experience of these historical works, their close-but-no-cigar mimesis gives us a sense of the uncanny. A historical painting has an effect at the time it was made and then a ghost-like reach into the future to have another life existing in other contexts and being seen completely differently. In multiple works by Hansel you see a depiction of “the artist” pop up; perhaps Hansel is thinking not just of the time traveling artwork but the posterity of the artist, moving across centuries as well, a magician who can conjure things out of time and into the timeless. The title “Giving Up the Ghost” certainly suggests the specter of art history is lurking about.
Hansel studied at Cooper Union then at Yale; recent exhibitions include PM/AM in London, Brand New Gallery in Milan, and here in NYC last year at Yours Mine & Ours on the Lower East Side. Hansel has had work in interesting group exhibitions with Pablo’s Birthday, Lawrence Van Hagen, Joshua Liner and the Flag Art Foundation. He was in “Giles” curate by Artemis Baltoyanni at Gagosian Gallery 2016. The New York Times, The Brooklyn Rail and Time Out have discussed the artist’s work; for more information check out his website.