The faces, the bodies, the people; they come close to you in Anne Hoenig’s paintings, uncompromisingly close, in presence and clarity.
Furrowed with deeply-painted wrinkles, like mountains and valleys in the clear play of light and shadow; or with broad, painted countenances of unconcealed stockiness in the ‘Men in Suits’ series of portraits, they reveal her courage in representing her subjects in an almost anti-aesthetic manner. They reveal – usually without backgrounds – the concentrated form of a fleeting expression. In their unstylized composition and technique they let one surmise the type of person and simply the human being – thus a type of summary image - the ‘Men in Suits’.
The series ‘Time Slice’ is also concentrated and summary: moments and slices of time, captured like exemplary slices of memory. Strung together in a series, they are not obviously narrative, but rather are states concealing emotional states within. Hence, they make narratives possible – in the viewer's mind.
In ‘Half Light’, within the pale light of the night and approaching morning that plunges the room into grey, white and black, a sheet can be discerned as a hilly landscape created by chance during the night. It covers the sleeping person’s body only partially, leaving feet, an arm, a shoulder and the hands uncovered. Hands open, the reclining person radiates detached calm and gentleness. Simultaneously, face hidden behind an arm, lying slightly curled on her side, she turns towards the empty side of the bed. Thus the painting also conceals a particular uncertainty, memory and longing.
Anne Hoenig allows feelings to emerge - memories of feelings, slices of memory – ‘time slices’. Also memories of feelings– based on a cherished moment. Different observers will have different memories. This is a fact of which Hoenig is deeply aware. Thus, this American artist only alludes to the portrayed person’s possible earlier experiences and their consequences, thereby evoking associated individual emotions.
“The pictures are enigmatic, never explicit”, says Anne Hoenig – despite their clear style. By simply touching on feelings they may eloquently recount, for instance, a night of love. Consequently, she also wants to reveal the symbols and body language that communicate these emotions, events and states, and to reveal them enough to make clear how incidentally we deal with this way of reading life today, and how little our present command of this “alphabet” is conscious. That is why sometimes her individual slices of memory may seem more direct in their message; unmistakable in mien, and even going so far as to be stylized stereotypes.
An example of this is the woman in a deep-red dress and pumps just as red, barely contrasting with a dark-red, fluffy carpet interspersed with black shadows. She sits on a bed glowing so brightly gold that her blond hair merges with it. Also depicted are a similarly-coloured night-table lamp, a gold-embellished drawer-pull, and on the little table’s brown wooden surface, a red ash tray that again matches the subject’s dress and shoes.
‘Red Room’, has accessories and furnishings that cannot conceal a certain emptiness behind their warm coloration - an emptiness radiated by the person sitting on the bed. With her back to the viewer, legs crossed and arms folded, she seems to be holding onto herself. This painting uses the symbols of abandonment and emptiness filled with the longing that this creates; an exemplary slice of arrested time, in a nondescript, interchangeable location, as usual.
In another painting, the same woman can be seen twining an arm around herself with melodramatic theatricality, thereby portraying hurt and vulnerability. Likewise, with sunken head and gaze, the partly-shadowed face is seen above a low-cut neckline and lacy top.
The body is always central for Anne Hoenig – but not always the face. She wants her painting to be detached from individuals, over and above them as it were. The same woman, pictured again and again, should be representative: representative in and of these slices of memory. Sometimes, as background events increase, narratives indeed become possible – for example, when the painted figure is lying anonymously, even interchangeably, in the grass. She is painted only from the belly-button – which is bared by the pushed-up white blouse – downward, in a short, very red skirt, legs crossed and golden snakeskin pumps on her feet. In the background is the expanse of the white-blue summer sky - or perhaps even the sea, the beach. What about the car, contrasting darkly against the distant blue of the horizon – is there someone else, is another person joining the game?
With such scenarios, Hoenig’s paintings definitely have some relation to film stills, from films with permanently uncertain endings. Everything she commits to canvas is mysterious and equivocal. No point of view or interpretation should be inescapable.
Anne Hoenig allows narratives in the individual ‘Time Slices’ but not between them. Between them, she stresses, exists no connection; nothing narratively certain to connect the individually-remembered feelings.
However, feelings are the connecting element. Devotion, shame, despair, hurt, pride, desire, happiness, self-abandonment and dreams are all themes to which Hoenig gives form in her paintings. These feelings are not illustrated by the relationship of two people to each other, but rather reflected in one person – with everything that goes with this in terms of emotion, possible narratives, and past events.
Hoenig’s paintings begin with drawings. These are experiments, studies en route to depicting gesture and expression. She then concerns herself with possible backgrounds and lighting. A further step is to take various photographs of her model. Finally the painting begins, which unites all these preliminary studies created independently of one another.
The result is an evocative, and meticulously-detailed painting. Take, for example, the tresses of hair, and how they fall uncombed upon her shoulders, shimmering strand by strand in a play of various tones of gold. With its slightly wrinkled button band, a sweater seems to have been pulled on rather casually over a lace top decorated with imitation foliage. Hence, the clothing always reveals the light and shadow of being worn.
The skin is very realistically toned and therefore very sensual. The sheet appears cool in the grey, silver and white of the night.
Forms and figures are very plastic and three-dimensional, and thus seem real. This is sometimes reminiscent of the clear realism of an Edward Hopper, and is also painted with a view to the meticulousness of the old masters of naturalism.
Hoenig has researched current restoration techniques, for instance, the piece-by-piece removal of layers of paint, which reveal how each painting was created hundreds of years ago.
She has devised a precise technique that functions transparently and therefore comprehensibly – which creates perceptible, traceable closeness. Her forms embody concentrated emotions - from the artist’s memory, to the memory of the viewer.
The connection mentioned earlier, between the two series, again becomes evident. For it is precisely this meticulously-detailed, painstaking technique that also makes the portraits of the ‘Men in Suits’ decipherable, even close enough to touch.
Anne Hoenig has collected photo upon photo of William Burroughs, Man Ray, and Fernand Leger. She was fascinated by the lives and careers of these people, these ‘Men in Suits’. The photos formed a multifaceted basis for the portraits.
For example, William Burroughs, with almost piercing, but exhausted gaze, energetic chin, the hands almost tense, holds himself by the jacket. The face is a nuance of colour, revealing in both posture and countenance the traces of a full life.
Man Ray, with hunched back and slightly sunken posture, looks at the viewer from below with a certain expression of resignation. Yet, energy, serenity, and simply fatigue reflect in his eyes. Finally, there is the former GDR foreign currency procurer Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski. With his round face and overflowing double chin, he is shown in a light shining obliquely from below and in almost mercilessly real perspective. The dyptic ‘Man who sold his Suit’ joined the ‘Men in Suits’ because Anne Hoenig was fascinated by the position of the hand and the mien. In fact, both these works – the first with his hand meaningfully on his heart, and the second, with both hands pressed together, and Schalck-Golodkowski’s eyes not gazing upwards in transfiguration, but serenely straight out to the side – clearly express their subject’s self-satisfaction, even self-righteousness.
Based on several image sources, Anne Hoenig paints these ‘Men in Suits’ in her meticulous way. Yet, they appear to have been frozen in a single moment, a single press of the shutter release, frozen in the moment that the artist concentrated upon, to which she thus directs the viewer's gaze. This allows the portrayed to appear human, because in mien and pose they speak eloquently about themselves. Hence, they are also typecast images; for the image is important, as Anne Hoenig says, not the person. These are paintings which, consequently, with their perfectly clear, almost plastically-wrinkled painting style, create the distance necessary to observe the visibly-full lives of individuals from afar. The portraits get very close to the lives of their subjects, in order to observe and discover the person within, the human being, and beyond that perhaps even more about on