Various Small Fires is pleased to present a two-person exhibition with Henni Alftan and Dike Blair in collaboration with Karma, NY in its Seoul location.
Featuring six new paintings by each artist, the work of Alftan and Blair negotiates the pure rendering of an image and the conceptual grounding behind a painting’s creation. Their explorations of the everyday share a similar focus on small, simple moments, and offer unassuming scenes without commentary: a delicately folded scarf, a hand in a coat pocket, a bowl of Cheez-It crackers. Yet both their practices are also strongly tied to notions of process; their preparative stages cross over into different mediums and methods. Alftan’s paintings begin as a text description of the subject she has in mind, from which she synthesizes a visual plan. Blair’s pieces start as photographs taken by the artist, who uses them as other painters would use a preliminary sketch. The resulting works are translations, both from one medium to another and from the realm of life into that of the picture.
The focus on the artistic process itself is explicitly incorporated in Precision (2020). Self-conscious in its subject matter, the work’s depiction of a paint brush, hand, and surface recall the action that birthed it. As Alftan states: “small perceptions of the everyday will merge with reflections on looking, painting and image making: the motif of my works is equally painting itself, its history, the paint as a physical substance, the tableau as an object.” Her dimensional handling of her medium further alludes to the visual deception that is representational painting; her brush work faintly recalls the fine grain wood of the paint brush handle. Alftan’s livening of her surface through variations in texture breaks the pictorial illusion, and invites the viewer to consider her work as examinations of the qualities of paint itself. As Elizabeth Buhe states, “Rather than pulling the onlooker into illusionistic space, the paintings project into lived space.”
Precision also introduces the formal elements that characterize Alftan’s oeuvre. The picture closely focuses on an action, heightened and made tense by the framing. Her work is visually defined by cinematic cropping and simplified forms; their unusual perspectives imbue even the smallest moments with a sense of gravity. Pockets and coats play with notions of concealment and exposure: a hand is hidden inside plaid folds, a collar is upturned to obscure the bottom of a carefully cropped face. Other elements resemble static freeze frames: scissors are held open in mid motion, and papers, lifted by the wind, are unnaturally frozen while falling through space.
On the other hand, Blair creates images that, while meticulously constructed, appear candid. He fuses the visual language of the quick snapshot with the laborious, careful study of figurative painting. The outcome is equally diaristic and cerebral; while paintings are understood as fiction, photographs imply fact. Blair manipulates the way his materials signify, contending with their respective historical legacies. His slow, painterly consideration of quickly documented subjects further creates an air of nostalgia, reflection, and wistfulness. The beauty of the everyday is laid bare, and documented with sincerity.
As Helen Molesworth states, Blair’s paintings log “the intensity of human habit.” Half eaten food, a used match, a lighter casually laying on the table—the work evokes universal memories. An open door, bright and blurred against a dark room, prompts a recollection of squinting, bleary eyes. Lenses folded on top of a book echo the routine of wearing and removing reading glasses. Traces of human activity can be read throughout Blair’s oeuvre, with the appearance of flash further alluding to the artist’s layered process. The result is at once new and familiar, personal and collective, and a reminder of the beauty of deliberate, close looking.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated publication featuring a newly commissioned essay by Linda Norden.
Henni Alftan (b. 1979) is represented in the public collections of the Helsinki Art Museum, Helsinki; Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; JNBY Art Center, Shanghai; and the Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art, Vaasa; among others. Recent exhibitions include Karma, New York (2020); Studiolo, Milan (2019); TM-Galleria, Helsinki (2018); and Z Gallery Arts, Vancouver (2017).
Dike Blair (b. 1952) is featured in the collections of the Whitney Museum, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, among others. Recent solo exhibitions include The Modern Institute, Glasgow (2019); Karma, New York (2018); Frieze, New York (2018); Secession, Vienna (2016); and Jüergen Becker Gallery, Hamburg (2016).