SURFACE TENSION Myles Meehan Gallery Darlington UK

What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba, That he should weep for her?"
Hamlet Act II Scene II

The search for nurture in the art of the past is frequently a source of anxiety for today's painter.
The reductive reasoning of successive waves of the avant-garde has construed sympathy as sickly dependence, a failure to acknowledge the need for a year zero in which the art of the museums is swept away by an exemplary art of the present moment. To have regard for what painters before us have done is by this reasoning to indulge in a form of self examination which disables our capacity
for acting in the here and now - to be of our time. At its most extreme, for theorists who see no meaningful distinction between the activities of the artist as an artist and the living of her life in other ways, history as a tool of individual retrospection is a paralysing encumbrance.  As if this were not trouble enough historians of art have come increasingly to promote a view of art as a system of signposts pointing to problematic social or political realities. The banishment of aesthetics from such a scheme leaves no significant place for the connections worked out through practice of one painter with another. Painting is reduced to a set of illustrations to histories unconnected to its own.

Hannah Finlator is deeply aware of the conflicts involved in the interrogation of her artistic genealogy. She is, however sustained by the knowledge that paintings from the past live in the present. Finlator is alert to, but not in awe of those censoring voices which seek to exclude the possibility that expressive sympathies can be awakened in the work of past centuries. The physical survival of that work guarantees that the art of the past must also be the art of today.
Finlator's works hold unique and complex conversations with the past made present.

In any painter's dialogue with art from the past there is inevitably a one sided act of translation.
It follows that the incorporation of ideas and motifs into a contemporary context carries a sense almost of the exotic. The energy, which develops in this dislocation, is exploited by Hannah Finlator in her reflections on the works of Van Hemessen and Anguissola. This energy passes as a frisson to the viewer who senses that the nature of the encounter between painter and painter contains an element of the ghostly. This shift in perception is similar to that induced in the viewing of certain kinds of modern work where the collage principle permits the introduction of unexpected or rootless elements.  Finlator is at ease dealing with this uneasiness.

Finlator has held so many conversations with so many. Not with ghosts but with immortals.

Prof. Gavin Robson
University of Newcastle upon Tyne



This evening's visiting artist is a painter first: a painter who continues to find ways to reinvest art history- or a wonderful alternative to it- with valid and engaging contemporary issues. She is a determined historian; she has lectured on forgotten or marginalized 16-17 century women painters to uncover their visual language, their innovations and -maybe more importantly- their suppressed or subverted narratives.

Hannah reinvests and re-imagines art history, not to pillage but to re/interpret art history. While it's obvious she studies these processes, Hannah brings a refreshing 21st century sensibility of narrative and experimentation. Hannah may share some surface qualities with other figurative painters, but her work deepens art history's connection to our daily lives by investing post-modern concerns with the personal, without easy irony or one-liners. Hannah redirects art history texts. Her subjects are active, aware, and determining their own narrative. I would not say Hannah's paintings are forthright, in fact they are embedded in mystery and full of puzzling inferences. By combining her family history with figures, symbolism and iconography from centuries before, Hannah provides insight to the hidden stories both in her own personal narrative and into her biological and artistic forbearers. Her work is both meditative and active. It reinvigorates the past by continually shifting time frames, landscape and metaphors into something alive. Her work transcends assumptions of post-modernism by reintegrating the social with the personal.

Colby Caldwell
Professor of Art and Art History, SMCM

SPLIT PANEL: Gallery at the Piano Factory  
An exhibition of recent diptychs 

For her American debut, Hannah Finlator assembled eight recent works each made up of two or three panels placed together. The tradition of having two flat plates attached at a hinge goes back to antiquity and is often still employed by artists working today.Finlator derives her inspiration from practices carried out during the middle ages and the Renaissance where the form was used to make portable devotionals, marriage and engagement portraits, church altarpieces, and domestic icons. 

The first piece in the exhibition Ella me Pintó, the only piece in the show on a single panel, suggests the separation of time and space made by abruptly dividing two parts of a related narrative. The text translates, she painted me in Spain and "she" could refer to either sides of the work; the (re)portrait of artist Sofonisba Anguissola who lived and worked in Spain in the sixteenth century on the right, or Finlator's self-portrait reaching towards a little girl on the left. What is clear is that the shifting and merging of time and the people described in a single given framework, can be understood both as two individual narratives or as one overlapping unit. 

Finlator's themes are depictions of the present, future and past in paintings generally describing relationships. The works in Split Panel represent complex relationships between siblings, spouses, lovers, ancestors and historic figures. In some cases the divided panels are permanently attached with metal hinges, in other cases a continuing landscape relates one panel to another, and in some examples panels are simply hung very close together to prompt spontaneous comparisons. 

Though the connections are not always obvious, visual cues as well as structural links support the basis for shared, yet separated, narratives. The inclusion of symbolic elements such as fruits, plants, and animals may recall the loaded encoding of iconography of the past, yet we need not scramble for our text books, per se. While Finlator's portraits are intensified by representations of the past, the re-organization of setting encourages a new reading through contemporary analytical or psychological means. For example, in Diptych with Twig of Lemons, a figure originally from Anguissola's ChessPlayers (1555) who is known to be the artist's sister, is placed at the head of a table holding lemons, while portraits of Finlator's two brothers share communications across the center of the two panels. The past is embodied into a new reality and effects Finlator's arrangement of the present. It is worth wondering whether the figure on the far left, mirroring Anguissola's sister may be a vision of future. Without knowing in advance who the men in the center are or where the figure on the far right comes from, the painting reveals specific gestures and carefully described portraiture; whether a candle is lit or unlit, whether a lemon is yellow or green makes the active difference and meaning nevertheless emerges.

The past appearing as a template for the future, the contemporary altering the imagined past, and the future shaped by both, can be surveyed throughout the exhibition, specifically in Family Portrait with Christ and the Woman of Samaria by Lavinia Fontana (1603); Diptych with Mothers and Children; Triptych of the Artist's Brother; and Diptych with Twig of Lemons.

With most figurative arts, there is an inclination towards an autobiographic interpretation. Finlator's likeness is repeated enough to be understood as such, but similar to the artists she frequently quotes in visual encapsulations, her portrait is a stylistic equivalent to writing in the first person. From this point of view, Finlator's voice initiates a conversation with detailed language but seems to lure viewers to provide their own means of analysis. Early multi-panel works were also intended to draw out the thoughts and emotions of those who looked on, but painted narratives were much more prescribed and largely catered to an illiterate culture. One of the ways Finlator's panels are very different to the early paintings she references, is the open- ended and inherently individual interpretations left uncoverable for the viewer. 

Boston, MA. 2011
Inh. Dipl.-Kfm. Herbert Reich
Neue Langgasse 2 50667 Köln

Die Ausstellung zeigt Ölgemälde der deutsch-amerikanischen Künstlerin Hannah Verena Finlator aus ihrer jüngsten Schaffenszeit.

Die 1977 geborene Künstlerin wuchs im amerikanischen Bundesstaat North Carolina auf und erhielt ihre schulische und künstlerische Ausbildung in den USA (Bachelor of Fine Arts 2000). Nach Abschluß ihres kunsthistorischen Studiums in Großbritannien (Master of Fine Arts 2002) kehrte sie ins Geburtsland ihrer Mutter zurück und wählte Köln zu ihrem Domizil.

In Finlators vornehmlich figurativer Kunst vereinen sich, nicht untypisch für cross-kulturelle Tendenzen der heutigen Kunstwelt, Anklänge an ihre amerikanische Heimat mit Referenzen auf ihr europäisches Erbe. Eine besondere Anziehung übt auf sie die Kunst der Renaissance aus. Sie fällt damit nicht aus der Zeit, sondern nutzt die Tradition als Anregung für ihre symbolhafte Bildsprache. Ihre Figurenkonstellationen wirken durch eine gewisse Zwiespältigkeit, indem sie Wärme und Geborgenheit suchend zugleich Reserve und Einsamkeit ahnen lassen.

Speziell Sofonisba Anguissola (ca. 1532-1625), die als erfolgreichste Porträtmalerin am spanischen Königshof wirkte, hat Finlator inspiriert. Sie verweist als Zitat auf manche ihrer Gemälde und verdichtet somit ihre eigenen Werke zu einem Zusammenspiel von traditioneller Ikonographie und Motiven aus ihrem familiären Umfeld. Augenfällig wird dieser geradezu mystische Dialog zwischen den Epochen z.B. im Bild “Ella me pintó” (Sie hat mich gemalt). Es zeigt die Malerin Anguissola, mit einem Pinsel in der Hand in direktem Blickkontakt mit dem Betrachter, vor einem angedeuteten Selbstbildnis von Finlator. Hierin kommt ihre tiefempfundene Bewunderung für eine in der Kunstwelt reussierende Frau am restriktiven Hofe Philipps II. zum Ausdruck.

Finlators Gemälde, die mehrmals international ausgestellt wurden, bestechen durch ihre der Renaissance entlehnte Malweise in Öl auf Birkenholz. Kritiker haben ihre Werke mit dem Begriff des interpretativen Realismus charakterisiert.

Pressetext, 2012

On a purely visual level Hannah Finlator's art is concerned with two distinct themes: the figure and the landscape. Often the relationship between figure and space is ambiguous and the viewer is invited to speculate on what connects one to the other. Certainly there is frequent tension between the two elements and between the figures themselves, which is articulated in terms of their past, present and future. These temporal shifts give her work an unsettling aspect.

Finlator's paintings also operate on a theoretical basis. Her understanding of the ways paintings were realised five hundred years ago is evident; each work is founded upon precise draughtsmanship, but the works develop beyond her initial drawings. Finlator explains that she will often embark on a picture without a full vision of what will ultimately result. The attitude of a hand or arm, for example, may change from imprimatura to finished glaze, giving her paintings lightness and fluidity.

The way in which Finlator's paintings are constructed through the application of subsequent layers
of pigment is mirrored in the relationship she builds with the people she represents: her paintings reflect a relationship in development. The subjects are generally people Finlator knows and thus appear to come from a participant's rather than a spectator's point of view, for instance, in her works showing a group of people around a table (a recurring theme in Finlator's work). By association this gives the viewer insight into those portrayed with a great sense of intimacy. This approach Finlator cites directly from painters van Hemessen and Anguissola whom she regularly makes visual reference to in her own panels.

The scope of Finlator's investigation extends specifically to less known women painters and works
of anonymous masters (such as the Dutch Master van Alkaamar, visually quoted in Finlator's Portrait
of a Man Sitting on a Rock). For her, the absence of the artist's identity prompts the viewer to engage with a work without predetermined expectation. This exhibition offers viewers an opportunity to engage with Hannah Finlator's work the same way.

Andrew Heard
Curator Shipley Gallery Gateshead UK.

MFA Exhibition: HATTON GALLERY, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Hannah Finlator’s figurative works are painted on gesso panels using transparent paint. This dialogue with past techniques, and figurative compositions, supports her desire for narrative. Addressing past art effectively is an opportunity that hangs in the air before every painter. But these autobiographical and imaginative paintings focus experiences of people and places in an intense narrative of relationships and identity. The large double portrait refers to Dürer’s Adam and Eve.
It helps to construct the painting, but the painting relentlessly searches for identity through contemporary experience.

Prof. John Milner,
Courtault Institute of Art, London, UK