What is the solution to enduring "our whole crazy, fragmented world"? Well, humor, to be exact, explains painter Eckart Hahn. Within the German artist's painted scenes, you'll find absurdist elements, anachronisms, and shapes which take on anthropomorphic tendencies. He creates still lifes, so naturalistic as to be photo-like, yet with the shading and tones of old daguerrotypes. And a certain theatrical element.
He might expose a reasonably normal scene, a golden retriever cut across by a thick, bright diagonal line, or a trio of sparrows pivoting around a bright-hued dot. In Nachtfalke, a raven perches silent above a tangle of rope. Except it is the outline of a raven, faceless, swallowed in black, and the coil of rope ends in the incanted head of a snake. Oftentimes a character might be masked or hidden by an asynchronous element in the frame (to borrow from film). See for instance Lord, a tribute to Napoleon's well-known portrait, except the subject is wrapped entirely in colored trash bags, and we recognize solely via pose and a dashing sash across his breast. Each still creates immediate interest, a visual draw in the oftentimes impossible narratives implied.
Hahn's recent solo exhibition at Wagner & Partner Gallery in Berlin pushes the initial elements of his work to bolder contrasts, a more urgent, rapidly condensing perception of the world. "I carry around so many thoughts and ideas," explains Hahn, "I think I’m someone who can’t filter my senses well." The paintings serve to refract that cloud of sensation, to manifest scenes in which the order our rational minds seek gives way to narrative, interrupted or distorted in each scene. The skeleton of each scene (modeled correctly, anatomically) must come from his instruction, studying first photography in Stuttgart, before moving on to the history of art (hence our Napoleon, and others) in Tübingen. For many of the works, Hahn sets up models or even takes photographs to paint from, and the realism of his subjects only serves to make each illusion more compelling, "the link between pure image, and imagination."
KNSTRCT: Who is Eckart Hahn? Where did you grow up, and what it was like? What led you here, to the present...
Eckart Hahn: I am the third of four children (one sister, two brothers), and, so to speak, the middle child. Growing up in a small town, I spent my childhood drawing or collecting fossils. When I was seven years old, my father died. I believe that since I was 16, I’ve spent much of my life as a curious outsider. Meanwhile, I became a father myself, and I’m happy that I can face the world more openly and with greater curosity. My life has taught me that the greatest gift is learning to love life despite the odds.
K: Where’s your favorite place to think or be inspired?
EH: I can’t say that exactly. My inspiration comes from my intuition. This source is independent from places and more dependent on the absence of distractions. I work in a small to medium-sized city; I need peace and calm since I carry around so many thoughts and ideas. I think I’m someone who can’t filter my senses well; I can always distract myself with unimportant things to keep busy.
K: What is on your perennial to-do list?
EH: In everything that one wants to achieve is the challenge to will oneself to do it and letting that go to actually "create." There are people who talk about plans, but never implement them. The implementation is difficult. But that is the creative process itself: initially it is only the process, and afterwards only the result.
K: Can you describe the role of the "fulcrum" in your paintings, the bright dot, line, or texture which disrupts or obscures the normal appearance of the scene?
EH: In my recent work I’ve been experimenting with color swatches to create something like an inverted backlight, which allows the eye to move more slowly over the underlying image. So to speak, it’s like a deceleration of viewing. Simultaneously, the colored areas act as a contrast to the rest of the scene, and that opens up the image beneath. It’s the link between pure image, and imagination.
K: What initially captures your attention for a potential subject? Do you draw ideas from a sketchbook, research, or just start with the canvas?
EH: Images emerge unasked. My intuition finds and collects things, images, and thoughts deposited like layers of sediment in my mind, so that then they can find themselves as "states" on the canvas. When such images appear, I think of them as valuable sketches.
K: Your style is oftentimes hyperrealistic, as if drawn from illustrations of wildlife with the background color-blocked out. What is your process for the technical aspect of your work, modeling shape and proportion, detail, and coloration?
EH: I often hear terms like hyperrealistic or masterful. I am not at all interested in being a virtuoso. Ultimately, it’s my way to express how I carry these ideas inside myself. This involves a certain sensuality, which has become a taboo word in the context of art. It’s a shame and a big misunderstanding. For me, this [sensuality] includes the possibility to open up new ways of communication with the intellect, similar to say, body language. That’s why my materials and my process are done as it best suits me. Along those lines, I also use photographs and construct partial models.
K: Who are some of the artists who are really influencing and inspiring you currently?
EH: To what extent these artists inspire my own work, I can’t say. For example, I find the work and the attitude of Chris Martin fascinating. His free way of dealing with art can only do him good. I also admire Roman Signer, whose work has a childlike fascination with depicting the world in all its problems. I like artists who infuse, in their own way, humor into their works. Humor is more far reaching than it is being used today. It has the potential to endure our whole crazy, fragmented world.
K: What is a big "mistake" that you’ve made in your practice that has affected your outlook and perhaps changed how you work?
EH: One mistake that I corrected early on was the belief that one has to have a specific subject or theme. I thought that an artist must stick to one thing, describe one theme, just as you are taught at the academy when you learn about themes. I’ve noticed that my "theme" is my attitude to the world, and this isn’t tied to a specific subject.
K: Can you describe your studio space for us? What do you surround yourself with - objects, artwork - that inspires your work? What in your opinion makes an ideal environment for working?
My studio is an old textile factory, 120 square meters and I can see a lot of sky. Although my wife and I collect art, there is nothing on the walls of my studio. It’s more purpose- driven and unexciting. I think workspace solutions are only ever personal. Just as there are people who need the city for inspiration, there are others who need the countryside and nature to find it. You should trust yourself on this.
K: What fascinates you about the world? What worries you about the world?
EH: The world.
The world. Seriously: life is such that one must bear the strain knowing that there is no perfect world and there never has been. Spinoza, the philosopher, once said that everything could be the cause of fear or hope. This is different from person to person, and it varies for a person from situation to situation. The greatest challenge in this multi- layered, complex world is perhaps to love despite all the pain and uncertainty. It’s easy to say that our world now, as fast-paced as it is, has become superficial and empty, but I don’t buy into this cliche.