• Personal Symbols, Universal Meaning

    Date posted: September 2, 2011 Author: jolanta
    Hans Andre

    “the postmodern moment…” 

    “The most compelling aspect of Hans Andre’s work is his effective harnessing of the psychology of the postmodern moment and probing of what lurks underneath, concealed from the surface.”

    Hans Andre
    Hans Andre, Board of Directors, 2010. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 77x55cm. Courtesy of the artist.

    The loss of innocence is a common theme in literature and mass culture alike, and is often seen as an integral part of coming of age. For many of us, this is the period in which our scope and awareness of evil, pain, and the world around us broadens. An exciting new painter, Hans Andre, creates works that hone in on this fissure in life. With pop-inspired imagery, he takes a fresh look at our socio-political climate and the unrest therein. In many of his works, silhouetted figures are variously concealed and displayed as marionettes. Using flat, expansive interiors Andre sets a shallow stage that creates a sense of foreboding and theatricality. Each work is a poignant reflection on how contemporary society limits our freedoms and desires.

    French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan expanded on the nature of reality and categorized it into three orders: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real. For Lacan, the symbolic order introduces “a cut in the real” in the process of signification. Symbols are constructs that create meaning out of actualized events. These symbols serve as signposts and turning points in the trajectory of our individual lives. In art, the use of pictorial symbol magnifies the event and projects the content into an environment of universal significance. Hence, using such a symbol allows the artist to create a place of meaning that surrounds particular real or imagined events. Hans Andre decontextualizes his original image sources and thereby flattens the visual field. His abstraction of forms is a process of transformation from a specific image and into a universal poetic. One of Andre’s best works Board of Directors is an unexpected, ironic, and humorous portrayal of privileged capitalists. Dressed in drab suits, three executives stand together with their mouths wide open. A yellow wall creates a shallow background where a man in black reads the newspaper. The light of the room reeks of overhead fluorescent lighting and the atmosphere is dense and stifling. Adjacent to this group of white-collar workers is a world map. Exposed to the viewer, their mouths indicate yelling or yawning. Alternatively, they might be engrossed in the noise of pragmatic management speak. Whatever the dialogue, these figures form a grotesque group, with their contorted faces, hollow eyes, and flaccid features. Together, they embody the absurd nature of corporate culture.

    Hans Andre
    Hans Andre, Memories From a Childhood, 2010. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 84x70cm. Courtesy of the artist.

    Memories From a Childhood, a haunting piece from Andre’s oeuvre, captures a powerful sense of mourning. Against a similar orange-yellow background, three figures are trapped in isolation. A nurse sits solemnly, hands crossed, on an otherwise empty red bed in the center of the room. Beyond, a black, silhouetted figure graces the far edge of the bed. In the opposing corner an unsettlingly pale figure walks towards us. The presence of these two figures is mysterious and abstruse. It could be that we are witnessing the death of a loved one and his subsequent passage. The window on the wall parallels the pillow on the bed, creating a poetic metaphor that brings to the fore the transient nature of human existence. This brooding work has a clear affinity with Edvard Munch’s painting The Death Bed (1895). Munch’s painting features a melancholy group of individuals peering over the bed of a loved one. The figure closest to us looks in our direction as his face begins to ossify. It is an eerie and decidedly mournful painting. The Norwegian Symbolist painter often made use of shadows and rings of color around figures to emphasize an aura of fear, menace, anxiety, or sexual intensity.

    Andre picks up on these furtive concepts and adds a contemporary set of eyes with stunning results. Hans has said that his childhood was rife with traumatic events. Born in Stockholm in 1950, Andre was adopted at the age of three; this memory of vulnerability is a recurring theme in his work. To that point, he relates, “I find it important to share memories and reflections partly from my childhood, daily life but also in my life as a director, partly as an imprint of today’s society and its values. If an observer takes his time to reflect over one of my paintings, then I feel I have achieved something. But on the other hand, I find it important that a painting should only be seen in the eyes of the beholder.”

    The most compelling aspect of Hans Andre’s work is his effective harnessing of the psychology of the postmodern moment and his probing of what lurks underneath, concealed from the surface. In the same spirit, the French Situationist International heralded in May ’68, “Sous le pave: la plage!” (“Under the pavement, the beach!”) or, plainly stated, “Beneath the oppressive rules of civilization lies freedom.” An act of concealing involves privacy, hiding, and, importantly, impersonation. In his most interesting work, Masks, this concealment takes center stage. Wearing formal suits, two masked figures stare out at the viewer, while a third, darker-skinned, and bikini-clad figure stands with her back turned to us. The welcoming gazes of the figures in the fore invite us to this masquerade. Their expressions indicate that we, too, have shown up to the rendezvous wearing our masks or false identities. Masks is a poignant reflection on the multiplicity of personas that we each entertain in a postmodern society.

    Hans Andre has established himself as a painter who creates cerebral snapshots of humanity in the midst of heightened emotional states. Using a personal symbol language he takes personal experiences and translates them into universal narratives. His message is a melancholy refrain that resounds the ethos of now.

    Hans Andre
    Hans Andre, Masks, 2011. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 86x61cm. Courtesy of the artist.

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