12 February 2015

Armin Hansen

As my birthday treat, I visited the Armin Hansen exhibit at the Pasadena California Art Museum today. I was a bit underwhelmed so I won't elaborate too much. I think the main quality of a Hansen painting could be its vigor. Sweeping, thick application, no regard for superfluous detail, abstract playfulness. It mostly ends there. His favorite subject matter being the sea and the men that toil in it, that masculine quality suits his artwork very well.

Hansen was the son of an artists and left for Germany when he was 20 to study art. For five years he devoted himself to paint european landscapes in Belgium and other places. He ended up in Monterrey when this town was but a small fishing village. You can read more about his life here.

Sometimes, his paintings reach great atmospheric feel. Like this "Stranded" piece where the figures in the foreground seem minuscule against the sea engulfing their ship. But even in this painting we can observe his lackluster handling of negative space in the rock silhouettes.

"Stranded" oil on canvas
For a painter that devoted most of his career to the sea, I must say that it was the rare piece that managed to depict the ocean as water-like. Thick, flat application, blocks of random color and jigsaw reflections make the waves look like slabs of concrete crushing against each other rather than a volume of moving swelling liquid forces.
The skies never reflect in the ocean and are often heavier and more belabored than the sea below.

His treatment of the human form is quite cartoonish and coarse as well. Most figures have bow shaped legs and prominent chins. Popeye the sailor would fit right in. Below is an example of a portrait of seamen. We see again the sad negative space and the block/mass of faces blending into a whole.  I took some awful pictures, I'll admit that much. 

Monterrey seamen. Observe the uninteresting negative space.
I said I wouldn't elaborate too much but I have to mention my least favorite pieces: his rodeo, western oils. Some of them have few redeeming qualities besides the abstract and, again, vigorous, handling of paint. You can see them using google.

This doesn't mean he is always off. One of my favorite pieces had a beautiful dynamic and "wet" feel to it. It was the"Iceland Fishing Boat".  His etchings and high-contrast pieces of boats being rescued and Monterrey scenes were also quite fascinating and salty.

"Iceland Fishing Boat"
The exhibition at PMCA mentioned how he was influenced by Ignacio Zuloaga. Sadly, there were no samples of Zuloaga's artwork in the room, not even photographs. Ignacio Zuloaga was a spanish painter of uneven quality. He was popularized in the US through a traveling exhibit that landed in San Francisco where Armin saw it. As a result of this show, Hansen enlarged his scope and cretaed some of his most remarkable pieces. Like this"Fishermen of the reef".

Ignacio Zuloaga. "Hombres del Pais Vasco"
In conclusion: The exhibition is definitely worth a visit. Armin Hansen might not be my favorite painter but I took away some valuable lessons in boldness and, well....vigor.