About Painting People


Edition Galerie Thomas
Munich, 1996



Xenia Hausner
About Painting People
When I began painting, I had no idea what adventure I was getting into. One day, while working on two stage sets I started painting a picture – with no concept or guiding principles – of two women. I painted over that canvas later, but the subject matter, people, remained with me.
I have no explanation why a certain face, a certain form attracts me while another doesn’t. I’m sure it has nothing to do with conventional beauty or with any predilection for exotic ugliness. Often, friends recommend their models. It’s rare that these recommendations work for me. Most of the time beauties from an ad agency or hunchbacks wind up marching into my atelier. Some rarified chemistry, some atmospheric condition, an effluvium has to be there, and there’s nothing irrational about that. Painting is an erotic process. Delicate wind chimes and baroque Gargantuas may equally attract me.
My pictures are born of two possible patterns: either a single person or a varied group catches my eye and becomes the content of an image. I begin with someone’s personal life story, observe her daily routine, accompany her till some detail in her world captures my attention and penetrates the picture as a secret symbol or a code word, becoming a telltale clue about her life. Or the opposite happens. I get an idea for a picture and look for appropriate faces to tell my story. Either way a picture, while evolving, always takes an unexpected turn. At some point it develops a life of its own independent of me, becoming its own truth beyond the picture frame. I say hello to it in the morning and goodbye in the evening, and when it’s hanging at an exhibition I try to comfort it, telling it that it will get to come home soon. I hope. Sometimes we have to take leave of each other forever.
Whomever I paint cannot escape my love. At the beginning of a portrait sitting there is lots of resistance. When someone is painting you, you feel shamelessly observed, insecure. It’s not an everyday situation. It takes an act of strength for me to make it clear to someone that neither originality nor skill are at issue here but truth and authenticity. Attaining and maintaining this goal is what we’re striving for. Perpetrator and victim, painter and model become accomplices in this process, and both have the same wish: to get the picture done. When it’s finished – from the point of view of the painter it’s often questionable whether that ever happens – they meet again as survivors of a battle fought side by side. This experience forms a bond between them.
After the initial resistance, pleasant rituals gradually ensue. One feels at home in the studio. A certain rhythm and familiarity come about. As for me though, I’m under constant pressure to deal economically with the energy of my model, to make progress on my picture before my counterpart starts losing interest. There is a grotesque discrepancy between the idyllic calm in the studio and my inner tension. It sometimes helps to paint a cushion or a tin box, an exercise in regaining one’s mental balance: a still life as a regenerative measure. And yet it fulfills all the fundamentals. Moreover, a cushion and a tin box are more patient, have more strength – however you want to gauge it – even if ultimately they are less significant than people. Still, it’s sometimes easier to achieve pure painting this way. You’re less inhibited.
The most essential element in painting is the act of painting itself. It is the most essential thing, no matter whether you’re creating a still life or a portrait. The pleasure you get from color, from composition and from the vitality of the brush stroke allows you – at least temporarily – to consider the contours of the bridge of the nose a secondary issue. On the most primary level, painting has to be something you want to bite into, something lusty. Then comes the truth of the story. If desire and truth have found their way to each other, a picture is okay.

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