Anonymity and nondisclosure are precious these days; situations wherein we don’t share at least a part of our identity seem more and more scarce. At Theta Gallery, in her first solo show, Hannah Taurins’s entrancing paintings of female contortionists, models and spies don’t divulge anything about who they are within their picture planes. Instead, the artist highlights her subjects with a well-defined and intuitive use of materials. Half-painting, half-drawing, each portrait consists of thick accumulations of brightly colored pencil, gouache and acrylic paint blended and mounted on wood panel. The figures are comfortable in their otherworldly space. We may look at them—a single body or face occupies each work—but we never receive a conclusive answer as to who these figures are.
Yet many of the chromatic figures imagined by the artist were inspired by or reference images of various sources, such as photographs of Lee Miller to models found on DeviantArt. A striking series of frontal portraits have compositions reminiscent of death masks. In actuality, the dynamic swooping hair that covers each figure’s face and obscures everything besides their nostrils and mouth was influenced by Maison Margiela’s spring 2012 ready-to-wear collection. Highlights are accentuated by thick, multicolored pencil lines, with the barest facial features sketched similarly to fashion illustrations. Margiela’s models become the perfect inspiration for the sense of anonymity in Taurins’s work—all are united but unique, and each preserves the identity its sitter without exposing them.
Comparably, Spy (2021) presents a figure whose mouth and nose are instead obscured by a dark shape. Whitish purple colored-pencil lines layered on top resemble a bristled fur scarf or coat. This gorgeous field contrasts against a pair of piercing orange eyes set within a richly textured purple-and-green face. The stark formal allure of the artist’s work draws us in both to observe and to be observed. Each work throughout the show is a reminder that what we see as beauty is a complex emotional and formal engagement with figures who reveal just enough to produce irresistible encounters. —Bryan Martin
Hannah Taurins, Shy, 2022. Colored pencil and gouache on paper mounted to board, 18 x 24 x 1.5 inches.