The Modern Woman, Through the Eyes of Danielle Orchard
Words CLAIRE VOON
Photography RICARDO WIESINGER
The women in Heidi Hahn’s paintings live on their own time. Occupying hazy interiors, fully inhabiting their bodies as they sit in stillness, slump over themselves, or simply stand, gazing at nothing in particular. Hahn is interested more in interior states than literal portraits. She has become known for depictions of sharply limned figures that favor mood over exacting details. In recent years, she has been increasingly inclined to lean into the abstract and the strange, delineating forms without providing a definitive sense of space. Her women are getting larger and contorted, their knees and elbows grazing the canvas edge and heads barely fitting into the picture plane. Monumental yet intimate, solitary yet commanding, they find a natural unity of ambience.
In Hahn’s studio, four half-completed oil paintings, leaning on the walls or propped on paint cans, surround us as we discuss her work. They depict individual women with flattened, oversize bodies, their torsos and limbs charting expanses of color and texture. “They’re fighting for their identities at this point,” “They’re fighting to be something special.” She’s determined the compositions but needs to work out her colors and glazing, which often build up to over a dozen slick layers that give her portraits a warm sheen. The process is intuitive—she never makes a preliminary drawing beforehand—yet deliberate. “I take a brush and try to find a form, these shapes, a pose that’s going to do something to the shape of the canvas and within the canvas,” Hahn says. “Then I try to impose the artificial nature of the paint—what can the paint do to deceive, or betray the form? It’s a lot of fighting what might look natural.”
The results are off-kilter in their heady palettes that combine, say, olive green and electric pink, or bold navy and soothing peachy hues. Hahn’s luminous lines freely mark out general contours of anatomy, gently exaggerating folds of skin and garment. In the dusky sunset world of Soft Joy #10 (2022), the bent knee of a woman rises like a wave, the line of her shin meeting the curve of her back. Soft Joy #5 (2022) is a muted picture of introspection—or perhaps defiance—its protagonist against a jam-red void with arms crossed to form a rigid block, and legs outstretched and on a lean, so she seems to teeter. “These women are kind of hiding themselves,” Hahn says. “It’s almost like they’re wearing armor, the way the paint resides on the surface. It’s almost like, ‘Get away, you’re not allowed! I’m in this space by myself. Don’t look at me.’”
<Read the full essay from Issue Six>