talking with jutta haeckel about her exhibition
Todd Hosfelt: can we begin by talking about abstraction and representation and how you’re thinking about them?
Jutta Haeckel: My goal, not only with the work for this show, but with all of my work, is to walk the border so that my paintings can neither really be called abstract nor are they representational. While everything I’m using to make the paintings is coming from an object I have seen — which would seem to make the paintings representational — I hope the way I am working with imagery or combining images, pushes the paintings very far into abstraction.
And then too, I am using images of drips or splashes of paint or brushstrokes – which is the “language of abstraction.” So the paintings are realistic because I paint the stroke to look real — it is a representation of a brushstroke — but on the other hand it is an abstract form.
TH: though it looks like a brush stroke, it’s in fact something you’ve created and isn’t actually a brushstroke?
JH: Yes. I really have to say nothing comes from coincidence. The “splash” on a painting does not look like that because I just threw paint on the canvas. It looks like that because I painted it based on a photograph of a splash. In the case of these paintings, the imagery comes from the street… demonstrators tossing a paint bomb or something at a wall. Some of these splatters, I photographed and others are from news sites on the internet.
TH: so it’s not “action painting” in the art historical sense, but you are painting the evidence of actions.
JH: I love the intuition of Abstract Expressionism. It’s something that is missing in the way I otherwise work – with little brushes and exactitude. Composing everything can make work bland and it’s partly the struggle against that that drives my process.
JH: In this painting, the abstract swirls that seem to be on the surface are the negative space from a Jackson Pollock painting… Just a detail of the Pollock, but again, I’m using forms coming from Abstract Expressionism.
TH: one of the things about your painting that’s always been really interesting to me is how different it is from a distance and up close. you can really see that in this painting… it’s almost photographic from across the gallery, but near it, it’s almost like broken dishes or pieces of a puzzle or something.
JH: It’s about perception… Which is it the right way of perceiving? Seeing the parts or seeing the whole?
TH: and you’re painting the space between things rather than painting the actual object that we see… the absence of the object… which makes the object emerge from the ground. it seems technically related to print making… but it’s a very different way to paint than i’ve ever seen anyone else work.
JH: It’s really important in my painting. It makes the subjects less physical — more fragile. So imagery emerges out of the canvas instead of just sitting on top of it. I’m trying to create a sense of light that is coming from inside things instead of bouncing off of them.
TH: it does seem like light is emanating from the canvas… the other thing is that the light or imagery is treated as if we’re seeing reflections.
JH: It comes from this story of Plato’s – The Allegory of the Cave – do you know it? People are chained to a bench in a cave, and they never see anything other than shadows of puppets cast on the wall, and for them, that is reality. Yet the world outside the cave is completely different than what they know from their experience. And so, we all see the world based on our experience and it may not have anything to do with the actual world… with truth.
In my paintings, you don’t really see the things… you see just the reflections. And even those are disturbed in some way. Again we’re talking about perception… I’m trying to speak to the limits of our perception.
TH: and in the paintings you keep calling attention to the fact that we are looking at paintings. you quote from the “language” of an historic artistic movement. you leave the linen you’re painting on exposed for us to see. you create images that are holes in the picture plane. those things all make it clear to us that this isn’t something 3-dimensional we’re looking at, or reality. even when you paint realistically you’re calling attention to the fact that this is all about illusion.
JH: Yes. It’s about illusion…
TH: but interestingly, your imagery always begins with photography — something associated with documentation or “truth.” tell me about the relationship of truth and photography and your use of that medium.
JH: What is interesting to me is the way realism, or the way you represent reality, is totally different in a painting than in a photo… even if you are using photographic material as a source. How close I come to reality, or how I react to what is real is dependent on my perception. How one perceives things or how perception is limited is something that I am really interested in. A photograph will seem to be objective, but a painting is always unquestionably subjective. I think the world is all about different perspectives.
this conversation occurred during jutta haeckel’s exhibition, eternal return, at hosfelt gallery in san francisco, february and march of 2015.