Working with painting and objects, Nadia Hebson’s research seeks to understand the evolving currency of painting through appropriation and the reworking of divergent art historical imagery and is underpinned by an urgency to constitute feminine experience through, and in relation to, painting.
Via a self-reflexive approach to painting Hebson’s work evolves in relation to her developing research questions and is characterized by its purposefully subjective form, which seeks to parallel the ambitions of écriture féminine.
Her research has been initiated and developed through a number of scholarships and residencies, including the British School at Rome (2008, 2012), the Durham Cathedral Residency (2009), AIR Antwerpen (2010) and Lokaal 01, Antwerp (2013) as well as time in the studio in Berlin and Newcastle.
Hebson’s research responds to a set of questions arising from an engagement with diverse art historical precedents through a combination of paintings and objects. Her influences include Flemish portraiture, German Romanticism, Dutch seascapes, Czech Cubism and the Wiener Werkstätte. A purposefully subjective selection, these art historically disparate genres and movements share characteristics of having visually acute, often descriptive formal languages; complex psychological ambitions and specific conceptual intentions.
Valser, oil on canvas, Palazzo Doria Pamphjli, Rome
Through appropriation, re-evaluation and an accumulated reworking of imagery, objects and genres, Hebson specifically explores the following questions:
- Given the once emotive currency of dramatic iconography, can contemporary painting re-approach an emotional seriousness?
- Given the contradictions, ambiguities and specificities of portraiture, can portraiture, expressly of women, move beyond simple objectification into a subtler terrain?
- Can the re-assessment and reworking of a divergent set of historical sources and painting approaches allow new interpretations and readings of established visual languages and iconography to emerge?
- Can these contingent meanings be heightened and extended through installation?
- Can these new configurations approach the articulation of a feminine experience?
Hebson’s work has been shown in Europe and America. In the solo exhibition ‘September’, The DLI Museum, Durham, (2009) and ‘From Flemish Portraiture to Czech Cubist Furniture’, Volta New York, (2011) Hebson worked across the genres of portrait, seascape and still-life to produce a body of work that responded to very particular languages and moments within an established art historical canon and which adopted various strategies of making i.e. observational painting, painting from the imagination and narrative painting.
Valser, oil on canvas, 180 x 195cm
Crucially, when exhibited only one portrait would be shown alongside the shipwrecks, landscapes and still-lives so as to suggest the interior life of an unnamed female protagonist. In this way, the exhibitions deliberately avoided a simple narrative explication, and instead worked towards an open-ended, contingent reading.
Questioning how, and if, painting genres could be co-opted and re-examined to articulate a digressive feminine experience, and recognizing that painting can be simultaneously acute, specific and ambiguous, Hebson’s work differs from the post-modern lineage of painting that employs appropriation and pastiche as a form of historically disconnected, and frequently ironic, quotation or endgame. Rather, Hebson uses visual enquiry to directly investigate the complex continuum between historic practice and contemporary manifestation, and to understand its ongoing currency. Hebson’s research has been further explored in the dedicated publication ‘Nadia Hebson Paintings’.
As Hebson’s research evolved, an increasing dis-ease with the established painting canon has led her to reflect upon the oeuvre of a little-known British painter: Winifred Knights b.1899 d.1947. Hebson recast Knights’ legacy to include her clothing design, interior decoration, paintings and drawings and responded to her expanded oeuvre via paintings, objects and writing. Using Christa Wolf’s novel The Quest for Christa T and Claudia von Alemann’s 1980’s film Blind Spot as feminist touchstones for a form of subjective biography. The body of work directly seeks to a parallel écriture féminine via the language of painting.
Moda WK, installation view, Vane, Newcastle
FG wearing Perspex collar/painting, Moda WK
yes, no, no, watercolour on paper, 150 x 30 cm
you expected something, you expected something else perhaps? oil on linen, 50 x 45 cm
This body of work was shown as a solo project at Lokaal 01, Antwerp: ‘MODA WK’ (2013) alongside work loaned from the estate of Winifred Knights. It was then further reconfigured into a curatorial project at Vane, Newcastle (2013). The research has been further explored via recent texts for the journal Persona, the publication Cadavere Quotidiano and the ELIAS Expanding Legacies Conference, Granada.
Portrait (ML), oil on linen, 60 x 45 cm
Hebson is currently working in response to the oeuvre of American artist Christina Ramberg b.1946 d.1995.
Moda WK, installation view Lokaal 01 Antwerp
Top Winifred Knights drawings installed in Moda WK, Antwerp,
Bottom, Raglan (floor), canvas, paper, spray paint, photostat marble paper
Moda WK, Vane Newcastle
Curtain for WK, canvas, photostat marble silk, acrylic, perpsex, 1000cx x 75 cm
For more information on Hebson’s work, visit: http://www.nadiahebson.com
For information on past projects, visit:
Collage, gouache on folded shimmer paper, 50 x 20 cm
Portrait (FG), oil on linen, oil on canvas, 55 x 65 cm