Henni Alftan, painter of cropped and suspenseful scenes, gets his market moment at Sprüth Magers in London
Finnish artist Henni Alftan’s calm, cerebral paintings have become an increasingly prominent presence on fair stands and online viewing rooms over the past five years. Two lively solo exhibitions in 2020 at avant-garde galleries Various Small Fires in Seoul and Karma in New York (the latter brought her to the 2021 edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach) preceded a small exhibition at Sprüth Magers Berlin in September last year, when the artist signed with the gallery. Alftan has now staged his largest solo exhibition to date at Sprüth Magers’ London space.
For the exhibition Outline (until July 30), Paris-based Alftan has produced 14 oil paintings that, in their cropped framing and precise compositions, resemble film stills. She depicted domestic scenes that sometimes contain figures (like Mother , illustrated) as well as close-ups of books and a woman smoking a cigarette: images intended to elicit both recognition and confusion from the viewer. His process is slow, limiting production rates, according to gallery founder Monika Sprüth, who discovered Alftan’s work at his Karma exhibition (where the paintings sold for around $15,000). The works in the London exhibition cost between $40,000 and $85,000.
While Alftan’s reticent, minimalist interior scenes are aesthetically pleasing and suitable for domestic spaces, they are, according to Sprüth and his gallery co-founder Philomene Magers, also underpinned by conceptual ideas that challenge and ponder inherent limitations. to the medium of paint, evoking the visual language of Thomas Demand and the works of Richard Artschwager. Alftan’s work is held by a number of major Finnish contemporary art museums as well as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The arts journal: Your gallery owner Monika Sprüth tells me that your process is quite slow, can you tell us a bit about how you work?
Henni Alftan: “My subjects come from daily observations of things I see which generally intertwine with reflections on the gaze, painting and the creation of images.
I start by writing a proposal that says “I would like to paint this thing this way”, sometimes with a few extra notes. I then begin to work on a sketch which is a fairly precise idea of the painting to come. I start from scratch with no particular model so that I can negotiate between purely formal considerations and resemblance to the subject I am referring to. The ones I then deem to be “a good picture” hit the web, and most of them get the stamp of approval to leave the studio. However, I reject many of my preparatory sketches or redo them several times.
So yes it’s quite slow, especially because I don’t make several versions of the same image. There is only one array that can be quite small.”
I would like to know more about the subject and the subject of the paintings, how you decide and why you choose to paint them?
“I like to paint subjects that also comment on their conditions of existence. I have a lot of curtains, windows, reflections and even paintings themselves in paintings. Variations on opaque and transparent etc. It’s not so much about making art about art as it’s about what this thing is in this context. For me, it’s maybe more existential. (It’s maybe (be why it doesn’t seem fair to do variations on the same image. ) I always see paintings as sort of archetypes of the art object I do medium sized oil paintings on canvas .
But I am not a conceptual artist. I don’t have a protocol that tells me what I can and can’t do in my job. Some choices are purely intuitive. Some images haunt me.”
Your works are framed very tightly and cinematically. Can you tell us about your relationship to cinema and cinema?
“I make my framings in the sketch phase and make them as tight as possible so that there is nothing superfluous in the painting. I design my sketches in view of the rectangular shape of the painting which is already there So one of the reasons because the framing is so formal. The other is indeed a lesson I learned from cinematic imagery, that the less you see, the more you project. I wish people would really look instead of just passively seeing. The fact that you’re seeing that there’s something that’s hidden, that you don’t see, creates a suspense not much different than you would indeed find in a certain cinema.
I think images infiltrate our minds and play an important role in how we interpret our lives and the world. I don’t think my photos look new. It’s as if I had unearthed them from the back of my mind where they were engraved by dint of having searched too much.
I think drawing them from imagination or memory makes them look like I would describe them rather than how they actually look.”