I bought my first Marcelle Hanselaar at 16 years old, it was of a small girl wearing a mask tickling the chin of a standing dog also wearing a mask. The characters conjured up a dark fairytale, a twisted adventure into the inner depths of the psyche.
The temptation of our primal selves, the human animal at strange odds with the even stranger world we inhabit.
A series of etchings aptly named Le Petite Mort explore the relationship between sex and death, a link the French readily accept in this phrase to describe the human orgasm. That we die a little bit each time. We are not so different to the swarms of salmon swimming up streams like triumphant passages to reproduce and die. So to Humanity tumbles upstream, slipping over one another in a tangled scramble towards an inevitable loss of our own lives and out of it bearing all creation.
The second painting I bought is called Lot's Wife, I bought it from a catalogue that arrived at my mother's gallery in Canberra aged 16. And I first met Marcelle when I went over to pick it up from her studio a couple years later. Lot’s looking out, his holding the mirror reflecting onto the floor, the mask peering into the given world of reality, I see not Lot but Marcelle looking out to me, her eyes behind the old man, striking, knowing. Lot’s Wife’s seduction, grasping for his affections with a brutal Narcissistic kind of attention, his books, his learning, his creations just an obstacle between them, as is the child bound in silence. She desires his adoration more than anything, he cannot resist her, and it destroys them both.
Both paintings have been with me in my highschool bedroom in Canberra, my bedroom at drama school, my first apartment in London and my second, and both apartments in Los Angeles to the present. I have lived with them over time and they have seen much of me as I of them.
I last visited Marcelle at her studio in January on my research trip for the Peter Fuller project, the visit brought back so many memories, I asked Marcelle to join me in an open letter correspondence.
I want to kick off a series of Open Letter correspondences with writers, artists, actors, as a form of sharing rough ideas, poems, sketches, whatever is something that you're just working through as content for my blog and a different kind of journaling. Would you be up for it? If so I've kicked something off for us below:
I feel about your work, that you are engaged in a healthy relationship with your demons, you control them and they bend to your will as the puppet master of the whole affair.
Do you feel connected to your unconscious? Not in the Freudian sense but in the emotional sense, do you feel these pictures come from inside you, beyond just your imagination or picture making. I don't just mean the quirky dark stuff but the portraits, the silence of your subjects when they are alone in thought, I feel there are speaking a lot in their silence, perhaps in the Lucian Freudian sense.
Stylistically, in tone and color you've much more in common with Francis Bacon and the German Expressionists, though you are still a non-conformist in your creation of your own ouvre and I see you tend to withdraw slightly when being compared to other artists?
good to hear from you and like the sound of your latest project.
i like conversations and dialogues and although it will be an exchange of 2 monologues the fact that we are tuned into each other makes it more fluid.
I am not sure if i have a healthy realationship with my demons, sounds a bit too civilised [pat], but i feel passionately that if we do not acknowledge our dark side then that darkness will rule and constrict us.
Patriarchal thinking and religion have told us that we need to fight or restrain that part of us, and i am certainly not advocating to let it run loose, we all can see what that happens when it does, but to get acquanted with it, to allow it its place as a source of great energy with the possibility of transformation into greater wisdom and compassion. But before we jump to that elevated kind of stance we can tap inthat energy as a source of creativity, of vivid imagination and a world of the collective.
I find it difficult to do without the medium of image making but give me a brush or a etching needle or pencil and the doors open and surprise me with images and tableau’s I did not know existed in me.
I left europe when I was about 20 years old and lived all the rest as a foreigner. That slight outsider status is important to me, its makes me bold and free but obviously I have been culturally conditioned by NW European art, especially the Dutch, Flemish, German who engage with paint as no other and know how to add a slight ‘off’ , the askew, the uneasy as tension to the image.
think Brecht in theatre.
That does not mean i don’t love other masters but this is my first affinity.
Philisophically and musicallyI lean much more towards Asia and Arab cultures although their surreal kind of paintig delights me, I am in love with oil painting above all.
I don’t mind to be compared with other artists aslong as they are artists I feel affinity with. So if you compare my graphic work to Dix or Goya or the Chapman bros. for instance I am totally fine with that.
And for painting the same, aside Beckmann I really like Alice Neel for instance but feel great affinity with Louise Bourgeois, Kikki Smith early sculptures, the avant garde feminist like Renate Bertlmann, Frances Woodman, they are artist who work in a totally different medium as I but their vision is what clicks with me.
ok this is enough babbling, i hope i ansered somethings you threw up, to be continued
You’re letter brought back memories of long chats in your studio discussing at depths our own subjective philosophies.
I feel in the battling of your demons, the beautiful for you is secondary to a kind of social dynamic that has to do with commitment, desire, passion, seeking fulfillment in the other. There is an incompleteness to your characters, made whole in the dynamic of each other. Though there is that aspect to art itself, that without a human eye to perceive it, what is it really, David Hockney said ‘really the subject is you [the viewer] in space’. I feel you are willing to sacrifice some beauty in order to get to something emotionally direct. Though it is all within the framework of an essentially beautiful image.
When I arrived in Los Angeles six years ago, I gravitated almost inevitably towards your acting equivalent in Ivana Chubbuck. She taught me how to harness my demons in my work directly. Working with her, those demons found a place to dance in comfort, in a great catharthis which I was oddly rewarded for with opportunity, acting in that way was to my demons, what martial arts is to my tensions.
The other day I walked down to Ivana's studio which is about a mile walk from where I live in Hollywood, on Melrose Avenue which is littered with youth and fashion, it’s like Rodeo Drive in its teen and twenties. Though less than half of the actors in Ivana’s classes are under thirty. Partly because it takes most of them many years to get to her Masterclass, first they have to learn the fundamentals from one or several of her sub teachers, from Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and then Ivana's Masterclass. As you might expect from this it is treated with a reverence. Not entirely unduly as Ivana’s technique has overwhelming transformative effects on actor’s process and lives, Ivana will admit this herself that the results are not intended to make a happier person, but a deeper and more complex one, more ripe for visceral screen acting.
The other day Ivana was traveling so it was that rare occasion when Eriq La Salle took over the Masterclass, Eriq was an actor for many years, most people would recognize him from ER, now he is a TV Director. His overall approach that is somewhat separate though complimentary to Ivana’s is to push actor’s into deeper and more direct versions of themselves, removing theatrical gesture and stripping the flourish to get down to the true human animal. The true self. That authenticity can’t be replicated by one better, it can’t be a lesser version of a former master, it is totally unique and indispensable because of this fact.
For instance though you are a mix of those artists or similarities and influences can be traced, you are not only a mix of those artists, there is something definitively you that cannot be extracted. Do you know it’s location? What part of your work cannot be referenced to another?
As I look past my desk to the two pictures of yours hanging in my living room, I’m reminded of the first time I lost my virginity, I was newly pubescent and hadn’t even kissed a girl yet, I had met her that same day standing in a group of friends, she was short wearing overalls covered in paint, laughing, she was loud and brightly colored. Beautiful and strange, with a big smile. She came from the public school, they were artsy outsiders to my private school conservative, uniformed and devoid of true human suffering that a made a person interesting, at least that’s what I believed. Perhaps I’d just suffered more than my classmates at that time, seen too much too young, when they’d been trapped in the confines of a small government town. As a group we hiked up to a National park, throwing rocks into a ravine, though we'd barely said a word to each other she buried me beneath a pile of them. White chalky rocks, which left white marks on my blue baggy jeans.
I was too young to understand what was happening, but I knew I wanted her. I invited the group to come back with me to my property by the river to camp out in the field just above the shore. All the fellas passed on the opportunity, but she put up her hand and said ‘me I want to come’, she was the last person I had expected to volunteer.
We stole a bottle of cheap champagne from our parents friend and pitched up the tent. We drank the fizzy sweet liquid and made awkward jokes, told each other made up stories that we built in each others minds looking out over the Australian landscape it began to twitter with the cheeping of crickets, frogs, and night creatures. But I was used to camping at that point, used to the land. She had experience with the desire and pleasure of another, which for me until that point had just been a concept, but she taught me that night, what it was manifest.
Afterwards we trekked down to the river and watched the bright moonlight bounce on the surface of the water, everything was still then, she told me that she loved me. I kissed her. It was the last kiss we shared and among the last words. The moonlight faded into day, as did the feeling that we really knew each other. The internal image of her grew in my mind with depth and complexity in the passing weeks, but how much of it was all in my mind. We didn’t speak much after that, which has always given me a feeling of nostalgia for provocative women, and quite possibly why I fell in love with your work.
Well that is what this rekindling of conversation is all about isn’t it, a continuation of as the Zen masters say out ‘mingling of eyebrows’. [Those old masters had this really long eyebrows, like old men get sometimes, and leaning towards each other to discuss their insights their eyebrows mingled, a wonderful picture n’est ce pas?]
We need this in life, this spiritual mingling with each other, between strangers or far away people.
We both work in a medium, film and visual art through which this is facilitated. We, as we are, are not needed to be present in that exchange because somehow, through the transformation of our medium we speak more eloquently then we ever do face to face. Well I do actually and I know many others too.
Maybe its partly due that when you create something you are without skin, without protection, shame, consideration for the ‘other’, qualities which kick automatically into being in social and therefore civilized behavior.
On the moment I am working on producing a book on The Crying Game portfolio of prints, this is the first time that I have made a really political work, an outcry against the injustices, our default for violence, I feel I will burst if I don’t do anything against the constant stream of information we receive through the media.
I suppose I have always felt great rebellion and a kind of righteous anger against the patriarchal, feudal, conservative social rules which allow no ungovernable otherness in which the adherents feel vindicated by smothering or destroying those threatening aspects so that nothing can grow.
I am not talking about a bleak utopia like portrayed in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaidens Tale, but the underlying tendency in all of us.
Ok this sounds all a bit preachy perhaps but The Crying Game images are real and the book is meant to lift them out of the confines of the art world and give them a wider, non specific audience.
The book will be launched at Herrick Gallery in Mayfair on the 31rst of October, I will send you a copy of course.
And afterwards the prints will be shown in the German Expressionist collection, amidst Dix and Beckmann in the New Walk Museum in Leicester, how cool but also how appropriate is that?
Of course I made these The Crying Game in response to Otto Dix’s War prints and the museum is very interested to show the present day continuation of artists reaction to violence, which I think is very much to the point. Museum interventions do bring a collection to life, to a contemporary imagining.
That all said, its summertime and I am lazing about, painting and meeting friends and noting small stirrings of lust in the air, ah mmm.
I loved your description of that day you lost your virginity, it made a big impact on me, ironically I cannot remember losing mine, not because it was so long ago or because I was shy and wild at the same time but it just wasn’t memorable. That experience came later.
This is it for now, I enclose a small painting of a scarred back I just did and am very pleased with, when I was in therapy I used to imagine taking an axe to my own back and splitting open my spine to release the unbearability of things.
I don’t do that anymore, I suppose I learned to express myself better and in other ways, but I always remember the release I felt doing that.
Looking forward to hear from you again, sending you love & all best M
Below is an interview/doco I made with Marcelle, aged 18 for a publication I was working on at the time called Art Influence, talking much as we did without the camera: