Nape (Fariba at home), 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 37 x 53 inches.
MEENA HASAN paints the texture and patterns on clothing,
the places where clothing meets skin and ordinary, transitional moments
we all experience with our own bodies. These closely-cropped compositions suggest
an intimacy with the
present moment and offer viewers the opportunity to contemplate the
possibility of universality in many of our everday, individual
experiences. Meena earned her B.A. in Studio Art from Oberlin College in
2009 and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art in
2013, where she won the Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Painting.
In 2010, she was awarded the Terna Prize Affiliated Fellowship at the
American Academy in Rome. Recent two-person and solo exhibitions include
Meena Hasan's New Place at Violet's Cafe (New York), wallflower frieze at 6BASE (New York) and PoVs at The Peddie School's Mariboe Gallery (New Jersey). She currently has work on view at Left Field Gallery in San Luis Obispo, Caifornia. Meena currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s important to you about highlighting everyday experiences in closely-cropped paintings like Getting Out of Bed, Drying Hair and Taking Off Shoes?
Meena Hasan: I first started dealing with the everyday in my work about six years ago. I was searching for a way to open up my subject matter and to present narratives that could be immediately understood and internally and physiologically felt. Dealing with everyday subject matter gave me the opportunity to speak to the idea of a universal humanity, while still locating the work in specific personal and individualized moments. These moments are very private ones. I am interested in the transparency, intimacy and openness that comes from making a private action such as getting out of bed public.
My Point-of-View series, which features compositions of first person perspectives of a figure performing everyday actions, started as in response to the bathroom drawings and paintings by Degas and Bonnard that are powerfully intimate peeks into private, secret moments. They both depict female nudes in the bathroom, and I always thought it was bizarre the way that the women seemed powerless next to the voyeuristic gaze of the artist. Often times their heads are covered, backs are turned, never is the gaze returned. My intention was to turn this dynamic on its head by making my works from a first-person perspective, complicating the gaze as well as the viewing experience.
Getting Up, 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 53 x 32 inches
OPP: What do you hope viewers of your work will experience?
MH: Ultimately, I hope to create an intimate exchange between the viewer and
my paintings where he or she bounces back and forth between being the
subject of the work, the viewer and the artist. In understanding the
paintings’ composition and process, the viewer is forced to imagine
their own body within another’s. Using a relatable everyday subject
makes it easier for this exchange to happen. It is a very subjective
viewing experience that I hope reflects the way we interact with others
in the world. I believe that the act of looking at an artwork, the act
of scanning a surface for meaning inherently reflects a person’s desire
Untitled, 2016. Acrylic on panel.
OPP: Are the PoVs and Napes painted from memory or photographs?
MH: The PoVs and Napes are both painted from a composite of a number of iPhone photos, which allows me the distance for reinvention and for my own sensory memory of the subjects to come in. I am the kind of artist who needs a reference point, something to bounce off of and the photographs serve that purpose.
The PoVs are, for the most part, based on photographs of my own body performing everyday rituals. In that sense they are self-portraits. For example, Walking in the Snow was made right after a big snowstorm in 2015 that turned my routine walk to the train into a perilous, icy hike. I wanted to express the comfort I felt inside my own warm coat and the impending cold of my immediate surroundings. The painting is based off of about five different pictures taken from inside my down coat’s hood, looking out at my feet as they gingerly stepped through the ice and snow.
Walking in the Snow, 2015. Acrylic and fabric dye on panel. 58" x 48"
OPP: Are the Napes friends or strangers?
MH: They are all of friends both new and old. They are of women who I know well or have spent ample amounts of time with, and I used my personal experience with them to inform the texture, color and feeling of the painting. They are women who I think are courageous and visionary, who have helped me to form my own personhood and, in this sense, act sort of as extensions of myself. Each Nape is painted from a number of iPhone shots I take while spending time with the person in a space that is important to her such as her home, workplace or neighborhood spot.
Nape (Ala at the Armory), 2016. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 38 x 54 inches.
OPP: What is exciting about this singular, subjective perspective?
MH: I uniformly use the close-crop viewpoint of right behind the subject’s neck, placing the viewer very close to the subject, in an intimate position that ultimately functions as a sort of compressed third person perspective where you are seeing what the subject is seeing but you are also seeing the subject herself. It is a composition borrowed from film noir; there is a mysterious foreshadowing and an intense closeness in these frames. The Napes are quite large actually (about 3’ x 5’), something that doesn’t translate to full effect in reproduction. I love when my work elicits mirrored physical reactions in the people looking at them, and viewers have told me that looking at the Napes makes their own neck hair stand on edge, which I love.
In both the Napes and the PoVs I hope to depict strong, singular, subjective perspectives that are dependent on the viewer. So, although the compositions are very singular, they are also inherently social in that they are made to be looked at: they implicate the viewer because of their first-person perspectives and their zoomed-in presences. I am interested in how the idea of individualism functions in contemporary society, in the status of American individualism and Modernist individualism today. I'm interested in the agency of a single person—given their specific gender, race, sexuality, etc—to question, challenge, reflect and empathize with the world around him or her.
Charulata 12, 2015. Acrylic, oil stick and china marker on embossed paper. 24.25 x 36.5 inches.
OPP: The specificity of substrates seems important to you. You
paint and draw on Indian Khadi paper, Okawara paper, mylar, vellum,
Tyvek, jute paper. What’s your favorite surface and why?
I don’t think I could pick a favorite surface or material; I use each
one for very specific purposes based on their absorbency and
flexibility. The surfaces not only determine the process, but also the
ultimate effect in texture, color and feeling of the work. For example,
the Napes are all done on thick Indian cotton-rag Khadi paper
that has an irregular, bumpy edge that holds the close crop, symmetrical
composition well. The Khadi paper is also highly absorbent so I can
load it up with layer upon layer of color and acrylic until it reaches a
tactility that is like skin, and it gives me the opportunity to
juxtapose a thin watery stain next to solid, three-dimensional acrylic.
Also, because the Khadi is so thick, I can actually cut into the
surface, erasing what I’ve painted, creating a three-dimensionality and
defining the sharp edges where a material meets a surface.
The 3D paper pieces are made with only Japanese Okawara paper and acrylic paint. The Okawara is a Japanese kuzo paper I found thanks to the artist Ellen Gallagher, who once described it as holding ink the way skin does. It absorbs the ink under its first layer, holding it within itself. It is exceptionally durable, which allows me to really challenge its shape, to crumple it up into a ball and unfold it without damage.
Shoes, 2014. acrylic, ink, fabric dye and Tyvek paper on Japanese Okawara paper. 20" x 15."
OPP: What led to those cut-out, somewhat 3D articles of
clothing? They are still flat, non-utilitarian drawings of clothing, but
you’ve discarded the rectangular frame.
MH: I have
been making paper versions of articles of clothing for the past four
years. It is a many-step process, and the series has served as an
excellent tandem practice. I work on the 3D paper pieces while working
on paintings and drawings as a way to keep me moving in the studio, to
keep things fresh and dynamic.
I literally trace the article of clothing’s shape and scale and then do observational drawings from different perspectives like top, side and bottom. Then I cut out the drawings, load them with acrylic medium, dye them in ways that mimic wax-resist techniques like Batik and Shibori. They are painted and re-painted. The final form is determined by the shape of the drawings and the way that everything fits together. I never really know what they will look like until the end, which I love. I think of them as three-dimensional paintings, particularly since they start as flat drawings.
The 3D pieces stay very close to their original form and yet are made only of paper and acrylic. . . even the shoelaces are pure acrylic. The original forms are not only my own clothing or shoes, but also those of my friends, which turns the artworks into portraits. They are often objects borrowed from the artists and curators involved in a given exhibition, adding a collaborative element to each piece. They become a way to mark a specific show, almost memorializing the event and the social dynamic of that event.
Graham's Cowboy Boots, 2016. Acrylic, fabric dye and Okawara paper. overall 12 x 12 x 12 inches.
OPP: You worked for several years in stop motion animation.
How did that form serve your conceptual interests? What led you to
shift away from it into more conventional drawings and painting forms?
MH: The stop-motion animations are another multi-step, side process that I work on concurrently with my paintings and drawings. I make about one per year, but they aren't all on the website. I think of them as stream-of-consciousness, automatic drawings where the narratives are cyclical and based in material exploration and process.
There is a rhythm and speed to creating a stop-motion animation that I love. It’s a very ritualistic and repetitive process, and I hope for them to ultimately feel like a meditation on the possibility for transformation in material and physicality. Making the animations is very freeing since everything is so impermanent. The process informs my painting and drawing, giving me ideas and the opportunity to discover new applications.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.