An array of forms populate Alftan’s visual world—a fruit being sliced, the shape of an open umbrella, pieces of jewelry and the wrist or neck they rest upon—offering snippets of private life that, while specific, seem part of an image bank of collective memory. The artist’s deliberate croppings both focus on the view at hand and hint at what lies beyond the canvas’ edges, in a manner that recalls cinematic space and the cuts of film. Yet any suggestion of narrative remains ambiguous and open-ended, with every work infused with a cool tension and suspension.
The artist approaches each of her figurative paintings beginning with an initial concept sparked by personal memories or observations, which Alftan first translates onto paper via sketches and notations. Her methodical, premeditated process, divorced from more common studio practices of life drawing or working from photographs, contributes to the hyperreal nature of her canvases. Alftan’s unique palette mixed from primary colors, as well as the diverse set of painterly gestures she utilizes—flat areas of color, smudged and blurred passages, strokes of thick impasto, sometimes all within one picture—likewise define her works’ unusual look and feel.
In devising her compositions, Alftan is interested in how viewers perceive even the simplest lines and dabs of paint, which are inherently abstract, as something recognizable. As she writes, “I’d like to see that moment, when the paint starts to refer, to resemble something other than itself.” This investigation into the act of looking filters through all of her works, whose scenes include framing devices such as windows, mirrors, scrims and screens that double the flatness and surface of the picture plane and offer literal entry points into each image. Hands and eyes also function as frequent metaphors and reminders of the artist’s and viewer’s perspectives. More recently, Alftan has produced a series of diptychs subtitled Déjà-vu that feature two sequential actions within the same scene; always installed in different rooms in order to be seen separately, they activate viewers’ memories and emphasize the space and physicality of her canvases as objects in-and-of themselves.
Alftan’s self-conscious exploration of painting extends to its millennia-long history, as she reframes gestures and details from sources as diverse as Northern and Italian Renaissance painting, Japanese woodblock prints and twentieth-century abstraction. Her attention to textiles also taps into painters’ historical fascination with rendering fabric; in Alftan’s hands, knitwear, hosiery and fur are densely built up or thinned out using oil paint, rendered so as to recreate their real-life textures. This continual negotiation between the interior world of her paintings and their three-dimensional realities drives Alftan’s practice, emphasizing the viewer’s physical encounter with the work in the present moment.