The paintings of Dutch artist Martine Johanna create a genre that is all their own. Based in portraiture, her work renders the figure in a way that is both realistic and not—they are at the same time hyper-real and full of elements of the surreal. She renders her subjects with a gorgeous likeness, yet includes dreamlike details that are alarmingly vivid, pulling forth sensations of the strange and the wonderful. Oftentimes, her subjects’ skin is glossy and doll-like, with deep reds and oranges splashed and dipped onto their hands and knees. This use of color creates highlights that are exaggerated and transformed by the artist until they appear to be emitting their own otherworldly light.
Martine Johanna’s newest body of work is currently on view in the exhibition “The Dark House of Gloria” at Hashimoto Contemporary. In the work included in the show, the artist’s distinct use of color is used to emphasize emotion and intimacy. Hashimoto Contemporary beautifully describes the work: “The kaleidoscopic colors of each painting reflect the varied spectrum of feelings contained within each subject and the artist herself.”
Johanna’s subjects appear to be in alien landscapes, settings that are absent of identifying features or realistic elements to ground them. Instead, the viewers are given the space to absorb and take in the artist’s ethereal scenery that she has so strikingly created. And where (or perhaps, what) is this dark house of Gloria? It is a notion, a state of mind. The artist describes this invented realm as a place “where an uncontrollable amount of love and optimism collides with the harsh light of life experiences and its destructive effects.” Perhaps this dark house is not a structure we can enter, but one that we must construct, build, and shape to fit our own needs, dreams, and intentions.
An added bonus to the show are the drawings by Johanna that are included. Here, the viewer is able to see side by side the graphite studies of the paintings, giving us a cherished look into the artist’s process and practice. The vulnerability present in the eyes of Johanna’s subjects is matched by the vulnerability and openness required when sharing with the world one of the stages of the process before arriving at the final, stunning painting.
Martine Johanna’s exhibition “The Dark House of Gloria” is currently on view at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco, CA through April 24, 2021. Images courtesy of the gallery and the artist.