David Hanes at EMERGE / Pescara, Italy

‘Gardens of Fate’ / David Hanes 

19 March – 30 April, 2023
Text by Benedetta Monti

EMERGE Project Space
Via Tiburtina Valeria 75
65128 Pescara, Italy

Photography/Video: Pierluigi Fabrizio, Giorgio Liddo
Images courtesy of the artist and EMERGE

s. f. [latin, natūra, derivative of natus, “to be born”].

More than a century after the birth of Die Brücke, we find symmetries among the concepts that moved the art movement at the time and now move David Hanes, (1987, Toronto). The German expressionists declared an urgency to express the incommunicability and anguish of their era through their sharp, acid-coloured brushstrokes. Likewise, similarly harsh times influence the stylistic direction of the Canadian artist who, again in assonance with the Expressionist current, finds refuge and inspiration in his relationship with Nature, a medium he uses to find his origin through his own authenticity. And so Hanes makes primitive spontaneity central, from intuition to gesture and sign, making possible the practical implementation of the origin of the word Nature, or ‘Being Born.’ In fact, the artist works on the work as if it were itself creating itself and directing its movements, during constant pictorial rituals where, in creative intent, it appears as if in deep meditation: ‘the work itself determines its own completeness,’ he tells during an interview.

Contrary to the ‘ordinary’ stylistic path of the average artist, which usually sees the maturation of the realistic stroke first and the interest in abstraction later, David Hanes immediately pushes against tradition and becomes interested in the immaterial. He then exhausts his minimal practice to land on the conceptual, and finally leaning towards a figuration that carries with it an interpretative structure on several levels, avoiding to submit to progressive laws but letting himself be guided by spontaneous ones. Verifying this via personal tracing that follows the real urgency of the artist and not the blind following of a pattern that prefers its homologation.

 Leaving the coordinates of a predetermined path, Hanes starts again from the origin. He wants the banality and lightness of the flower in the foreground, he wants the uninhabited farmhouse, and he wants the valley at sunset. He finds a new way of dealing with the expressionist imprint, not only indulging the need to follow and study the retinal impulse, but recognizing the image as having a spiritual quality. Influences regarding the history of art of the past include names such as, among others, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Munch, Rothko, Morris, Rauschenberg; of all of them he is fascinated by Morandi in his depiction of the universal through portraits and still lifes.

In order to understand the works in the exhibition, it is necessary to identify the artist’s individual procedural habits, deconstruct them and reinsert them into an overall view. And the conceptual constants. We will thus have, on the one hand, an extremely impulsive practice — in its physical urgency of material and gesture — which sees Hanes in the action of painting on his knees, completely enraptured by the ‘hic et nunc of artistic ritual, producing various sketches and as many watercolours, acrylic and oil paintings. On the other two conceptual constants, Nature (especially plant, flora, landscape) and spirituality.

 “I have to perform an act of osmosis with my surroundings, to become one with my clouds and mountains in order to be what I am.” Speaking here is Caspar David Friedrich, close to Hanes in sharing a constant relationship with the en plein air. In fact, his words aptly describe Hanes’s sensibility in conceiving of a visceral relationship with the outdoor environment, as evidenced by the video documentation of his Pescara residence.

 The paintings of a promoter of the Romantic current show a marvellous attention to detail, slow and impetuous, and the gaze of the viewer is the same as that of the characters in the paintings, of man towards an immense, eternal, divine Nature. David Hanes’ style, on the other hand, is imbued with impulsive gesture and serial falling in love; he creates his sketches during explorations in Nature, looking for places to be inspired, then bringing to the studio dozens and dozens of barely sketched bases from which to extract the construction of the painting. The point of view here is much more than internal, and the viewer becomes an integral part of the representation, and the object, immersed in the organic matter, becomes a tree trunk, grass, plant, flower. This is the only way to understand how the authentic definition of the figures in flat backgrounds, with pure colouring at times blinding, comes from the artist’s daily, close study of the plant population and the external environment.

 In Gardens of Fate works created between Iceland, Germany, Canada, Luxembourg are exhibited side by side with the result of the residency in Pescara, giving the audience the opportunity to be able to experience the contrasts between the work created within the metropolis, in the context of the suburbs or the countryside, from the uninhabited to the inhabited place. Between changes in material density, heaviness of colour, vividness of artificial and sunlight, summer and winter. Precisely the serial compositional sequentiality of some of the pictorial proposals in the exhibition (the repetition of the same flower, for example) reveals, paradoxically, not a monologue but a chorus of multiple voices. A plurality that confirms a ‘natural’ rule: the same subject can give rise to infinite combinations of reality and meaning, changing according to light, air, mood and training to see. Similarly, Monet’s seriality allows us to see an ever-changing Rouen Cathedral, and David Hanes allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of one flower looking at another.

In the words of Mali Wu, Activist, artist and co-curator of Post-nature, 11th Taipei Biennial: “It does not mean that there is no more Nature, rather that our understanding of Nature should change. There is no division between human beings and Nature.”

In conclusion, the concept of Nature is today more hybrid (than it already is in Nature?), confused and in some declinations censored, and the human being is trying to regain its place within it after an era marked by a well-deserved avant-garde and conceptual nonsense. Topicality, however, seems to be exhausted by the extremely immaterial character that has conditioned human production in recent decades, and continues to condition the art scene today, in a continuum of post-modernity, post-humanity, and above all, as the title given to Mali Wu’s biennial, “post-nature”.

 If society’s growing direction toward immateriality has brought within itself the need to begin to know again the origin, or the complex beauty of simplicity, it has also brought a loneliness that diverges from our deepest essence as social animals but can be incredibly revealing. In this sense, post-nature becomes the ideal definition of what is happening within the human narrative, where David Hanes proposes his version of an internal, rhizomatic, spiritual Nature, experienced as if it were one’s own garden, in which to take refuge for regeneration and in which to place one’s Destiny. He does so by demonstrating, finally, an immanent coherence between his own life, his actions and his art making, so that the painting is a definition of his everydayness, on the alert to Nature and his being in relationship with it.

Benedetta Monti

1. David Hanes, Artoday, http://artoday.it/david-hanes 

2. Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), Scritti sull’Arte, SE, 1989