Henni Alftan. Photo: Marwen Farhat/Divergences images

 

The work of Henni Alftan (*1979) stems from a deep engagement with the medium of painting, its methods and its histories, resulting in pictures of daily life that are intimately familiar and yet intriguingly unknowable. Born in Helsinki and based in Paris, the artist depicts everyday scenes and objects, often cropped or otherwise fragmented, each rendered with a studied economy of means. In spite of her pared-down aesthetic, Alftan’s experiments with color, texture, scale and perspective produce canvases rich in layered meanings that double as metaphors for seeing and comprehending the world through the physical properties of paint.

 

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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.

 

Works
Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Body, 2020

Henni Alftan
Body, 2020
Oil on canvas
73 × 92 cm
28 3/4 × 36 1/8 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
5:15, 2021

Henni Alftan
5:15, 2021
Oil on canvas
46 × 55 cm
18 × 21 5/8 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Beads, 2017

Henni Alftan
Beads, 2017
Oil on canvas
144.7 × 113.6 cm
57 × 44 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Morning Sun, 2020

Henni Alftan
Morning Sun, 2020
Oil on canvas
130 × 195 cm
51 1/8 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
By the Pool, 2020

Henni Alftan
By the Pool, 2020
Oil on canvas
130 × 195 cm
51 1/8 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Center, 2021

Henni Alftan
Center, 2021
Oil on canvas
130 × 162 cm
51 1/8 × 63 7/8 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Sharp, 2016

Henni Alftan
Sharp, 2016
Oil on canvas
53.3 × 45.7 cm
21 × 18 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Necklace, 2021

Henni Alftan
Necklace, 2021
Oil on canvas
65 × 81 cm
25 5/8 × 32 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Sunset Parlour, 2018

Henni Alftan
Sunset Parlour, 2018
Oil on canvas
130 × 195 cm
51 1/8 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019

Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019
Oil on canvas
73 × 58.4 cm
28 3/4 × 23 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019

Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019
Oil on canvas
73 × 58.4 cm
28 3/4 × 23 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
The Lake, 2017

Henni Alftan
The Lake, 2017
Oil on canvas
129.5 × 194.9 cm
51 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan
Eyeliner, 2017

Henni Alftan
Eyeliner, 2017
Oil on canvas
60 × 73 cm
23 5/8 × 28 3/4 inches

Details
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Body, 2020
Oil on canvas
73 × 92 cm
28 3/4 × 36 1/8 inches

Henni Alftan
Body, 2020
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
5:15, 2021
Oil on canvas
46 × 55 cm
18 × 21 5/8 inches

Henni Alftan
5:15, 2021
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Beads, 2017
Oil on canvas
144.7 × 113.6 cm
57 × 44 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Beads, 2017
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Morning Sun, 2020
Oil on canvas
130 × 195 cm
51 1/8 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Morning Sun, 2020
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
By the Pool, 2020
Oil on canvas
130 × 195 cm
51 1/8 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
By the Pool, 2020
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Center, 2021
Oil on canvas
130 × 162 cm
51 1/8 × 63 7/8 inches

Henni Alftan
Center, 2021
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Sharp, 2016
Oil on canvas
53.3 × 45.7 cm
21 × 18 inches

Henni Alftan
Sharp, 2016
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Necklace, 2021
Oil on canvas
65 × 81 cm
25 5/8 × 32 inches

Henni Alftan
Necklace, 2021
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Sunset Parlour, 2018
Oil on canvas
130 × 195 cm
51 1/8 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Sunset Parlour, 2018
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019
Oil on canvas
73 × 58.4 cm
28 3/4 × 23 inches

Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019
Oil on canvas
73 × 58.4 cm
28 3/4 × 23 inches

Henni Alftan
Tiptoeing, 2019
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
The Lake, 2017
Oil on canvas
129.5 × 194.9 cm
51 × 76 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
The Lake, 2017
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Eyeliner, 2017
Oil on canvas
60 × 73 cm
23 5/8 × 28 3/4 inches

Henni Alftan
Eyeliner, 2017
Details
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Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Henni Alftan

Henni Alftan
Contour
June 10–July 30, 2022
London

The exhibition by Henni Alftan is the artist's first solo show at the London gallery, presenting new paintings that give a comprehensive insight into her artistic oeuvre. Her figurative subjects negotiate the relationship between medium and image, featuring a subtle palette and flat rendering style to transform their everyday subject matter from object to motif. Alftan’s compositions use the tight framing of close range photography to explore the similarities between painting and image-making while offering a fragmented vision of reality.

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Henni Alftan
Night-time
September 17–October 30, 2021
Berlin

Henni Alftan's solo exhibition Night-time is part of this year’s Gallery Weekend “Discoveries”. The Sprüth Magers Window presentation features ten new works by the Paris-based artist. Alftan’s figurative paintings negotiate the relationship between medium and image, employing a subtle palette and flat rendering style to transform their everyday subject matter from object to motif. Her pared-down compositions connote a stillness that oscillates between monotony and anticipation.

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Henni Alftan
Henni Alftan

GO FIGURE!?
Henni Alftan, John Baldessari, Cao Fei, George Condo, Diane Dal-Pra, Thomas Demand, Alex Foxton, Lenz Geerk, Elizabeth Glaessner, Matthew Angelo Harrison, Oscar yi Hou, Gary Hume, Clementine Keith-Roach, Karen Kilimnik, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Jo Messer, Pamela Rosenkranz, Sterling Ruby, Thomas Scheibitz, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel, Kara Walker, Andro Wekua
May 19–May 26, 2021

GO FIGURE!? is an online exhibition in collaboration with Ed Tang and Jonathan Cheung. It presents works by artists from Sprüth Magers roster alongside a selection of emerging artists from around the globe and across various media, aiming to welcome a playful dialogue between the exhibiting artists and works.

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Press

Painting Boredom
Art in America, article by Hannah Stamler, online, December 10, 2020

3 Art Gallery Shows to See Right Now
The New York Times, article by Roberta Smith, Jason Farago, Arthur Lubow, online, September 30, 2020
 

Introducing: Henni Alftan
Art Press, article by Julie Cren, online, July–August, 2019

 

Biography

Henni Alftan (*1979, Helsinki) lives and works in Paris. Institutional group exhibitions include those at ENSA Limoges, École Nationale Supérieur d’Art (2020); Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art, Vaasa (2018); Hämeenlinna Art Museum, Finland and Musée des Beaux-Arts de Brest (both 2017) and Amos Anderson Art Museum (2015). Alftan’s works are included in the collections of the Helsinki Art Museum; Amos Rex, Helsinki; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Dallas Museum of Art, EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Finland and the Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art, Vaasa.

Born / Lives and works
Born 1979 in Helsinki, Finland
Lives and works in Paris, France
Education
2004 MFA, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris, DNSAP
2001 BFA, Ecole Pilote Internationale d’Art et de Recherche de la Villa Arson, DNAP, Nice, France
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2021 Frederick Hammersley artist residency at The Tamarind Institute, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
2019 Gyeongju International Residency Art Festival, Gyeongju Arts Center, South Korea
2019 Frame Finnish Fund for Art Exchange, Finland
2019 Arts Promotion Center Finland
2018 Arts Promotion Center Finland
2018 CNAP- soutien à la première publication, France
2018 Oskar Öflund Foundation, Finland
2017 Arts Promotion Center Finland
2017 Stina Krooks Stiftelse, Finland
2016 Finnish Fund for Culture, Suomen Kulttuurirahasto
2016 Arts Promotion Center Finland
2015 International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) New York and The Finnish Institute, New York, USA
2015 Alfred Kordelin Foundation grant for the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) New York and The Finnish Institute, New York, USA
2014 Frame Finnish Fund for Art Exchange, Finland
2014 Nominated for prix Révélations Emerige 2014, France
2014 CNAP- soutien à la première exposition, France
2014 Arts Promotion Center Finland
2013 Alfred Kordelin Foundation, Finland
2013 Swedish Cultural Foudation in Finland, Svenska Kulturfonden
2013 Oskar Öflund Foundation, Finland
2013 Young Artist Grant, Finnish Art Society
2012 Oskar Öflund Foundation, Finland
2012 Finnish Fund for Culture, Suomen Kulttuurirahasto
2011 Lietsalo-project studio of Finnish Artists’ Studio Foundation, Helsinki, Finland
2011 Oskar Öflund Foundation, Finland
2011 Alfred Kordelin Foundation, Finland
2010 Salzburg Kunstverein, Künstlerhaus, Austria
2010 Oskar Öflund Foundation, Finland
2009 Kone Foundation, Residency at Saari Manor, Finland
2008 Oskar Öflund Foundation, Finland
2006 Oskar Öflund Foundation, Finland
2006 Pollen Association des Artistes en Résidence à Monflanquin, France
2003 prize, Prix Diamond, Ensb-a, France
2000 The Edinburgh College of Art, United Kingdom
2000 CNASEA, Délégation régionale Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France
Public Collections
Aishti Foundation, Beirut
Amos Rex Art Museum, Helsinki
Art gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Collection Clérmont Métropole, France
Dallas Museum of Art, Texas
EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Finnland
FRAC (Fond regional d’art contemporain) Limousin, France
Hämeenlinna Museum of Art – Vexi Salmi collection, Hämeenlinna, Finland
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Heino Art Foundation, Finland
Helsinki Art Museum, Helsinki
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
JNBY Art Center, Shanghai
Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art – Swanljung collection, Vaasa, Finland
Portland Museum of Art, Washington
UBS Art Collection