Oona Hassim @ Woolff Gallery

Woolff Gallery presents the solo exhibition of Royal Academy Summer Show regular Oona Hassim. Spread over two levels, Hassim’s show is a great selection of oils and drawings in various sizes that all have a common feature, London and the life that surrounds it.

The artist captures her subject matter in a variety of moments, ranging from tranquil occasions to intense explosions of human expression. Hassim is not only interested in exploring the human presence in conjunction with the immediate landscape but she masterfully depicts the energy and aura that each of these moments generate. From the ‘Regent Street: Evening’, ‘Urban Landscape: Sunny afternoon’, to the ‘The London Marathon 2011’, the ‘G20 series’ and the ‘Anti-Cuts Demo: March 2011, Green Park’, we not only see London through Hassim’s eyes but we almost hear and sense those sounds that desperately want to escape from her works.

Being the first witness of each captured moment herself and with the additional help of photographs, Hassim becomes a reporter of London’s fast paced life and we are all invited to discover and experience every part of it. The employment of vivid colours in combination with her abstract technique are on a par with a never-ending motion and rhythm..her paintings profoundly make you feel part of a larger crowd even when you are actually in the middle of a gallery. Kostas Prapoglou

Oona Hassim talked to REVma -/+ about her work:

REVma -/+: Your paintings seem to reflect the aura of the captured moment, which in most cases involves intense scenes. To what extent do you feel that human presence can interact with the surrounding urban environment and how does this extracted energy complement your chosen cityscape?
O.H.: The urban environment constantly assails us with its different atmospheres and rhythms. It is this constant state of flux which I find so exciting as well as at times overwhelming. Familiar components of the city can affect us very differently depending on their situation and on our mood. Therefore glowing neon signs can be serene and beautiful against the backdrop of soft tinted greys of the looming city edifices. They can also however be insistent and overpowering when massed together a central point, where they scream out at one, vying for attention as they perpetually rescribble their messages or all too familiar brand logos. So in the first instance we are slowed down, and gaze mesmerised, and in the second we may feel an urge to escape this bombardment and rush past trying to block out the cacophony.

The transformation of urban spaces during protest marches or events that occur in the city is something I find fascinating. All the usual interdictions of the urban environment are renounced, which creates an amazingly liberating feeling, the pedestrian is allowed to reinvent the space and landscape.The vertical use of space is suddenly explored with a childlike excitement both from more active protesters as well as from people who would never normally climb a bollard or scaffolding, but have been suddenly offered this opportunity. To look down on the crowds and see the city space from this unusual perspective is an intensely moving and beautiful experience.

I feel that our interpretation of the language of the city imprints its character upon us. Our reactions to and interactions with the city’s signs and spaces, that speed us up or slow us down or affect our emotional responses, cause us to become part of the urban landscape, and it is these moods, energies and tempos which fascinate me in my work.

REVma -/+: Although, in most cases, your work’s narrative is the reaction of the masses towards politics, economic downfall and other aspects of everyday life, your subject matter does not seem to underline a commentary on any of the above matters. How have you managed to reach this duality?
O.H.: Firstly, I suppose it is important to say that on a basic level, I would never lend my support or want to be counted as a statistic on a march that I didn’t agree with. Therefore I always support the general aim of a march which I am going to use in my work, sometimes fervently, and so I would hope that my passion or emotion about the event as well as the atmosphere around it, would be conveyed. For example, my relatively recent painting of the student demo on the 22nd of November 2011, was on a beautiful bright day and the light shining through the translucent scaffolding and buildings in the distance was amazing. The police were, in my experience of that day, a lot more angry and aggressive than on other marches I have been on. I find police quite scary to look at any way, like huge wasps in their acid lemon jackets, and the line of them enclosing the dark seething masses seemed quite menacing. These are some of the emotions and sensations which I tried to convey in that painting.

Conversely, the London Marathon, another bright sunny day, had a completely happy carefree atmosphere, with crowds cheering people on from the sidelines, for me this painting is about the enjoyment of the colours and the sunlight and that general ambience, it is free from the angst and tension of the student demo painting, at least that is what I felt when I painted it. So although my paintings are certainly not advertisements for the causes of the marches and events that they cover, I would hope that the viewer would be able to infer some of the emotions and issues that effect me when I am making the work. People also of course often read their own interpretations into the pieces as everyone has their own set of memories and associations. There are also certain symbols, such as the well known gaza blood spot placards in the G20 march, that are extremely potent symbols in their own right. Just having such symbols in a painting automatically creates very strong reactions in the viewer. In that particular case, I felt that the juxtaposition between this very strong, sad symbol, and the bright colourful flags all around was very powerful, but every individual’s reaction will be different. Generally I feel that marches are in themselves ambivalent events in the sense that the marchers are often very cheerful and happy, despite their passionate chanting, and in spite of their cause often being a desperately serious one. Ultimately I do not want to dictate too overtly what the viewer should feel about the various causes and events, an understated narrative is there, but I believe that it is for the viewer to put their own interpretation on to the work.

REVma -/+: Kinesis (motion) as explored through the Aristotelian philosophy, the work of the futurists and many others, appears quite frequently in your work. Do you feel that motion and its dynamics play a significant role in your artistic expression?
O.H.: I have always been drawn to motion in my work and the different aspects of movement, as a fundamental part of the urban experience. I am fascinated by the visual fragmentation of the urban landscape caused by constantly twisting and turning as one weaves one’s path through the crowds, one gets a flash of a face, a bright umbrella, a wet pavement, all within seconds. They are visually and mentally chopped up, fragmented moments, and yet intense ones. When I am working on a painting of a surging crowd, I find this very challenging but also exciting to try and convey, and in some way maintain the integrity of these different experiences. I have also always loved the blurry marks of slow-shutter-speed photos or time lapse films that leave shadowy traces of peoples’ movements and journeys. It is interesting that one never actually sees in this way, it is an artificial construct of the camera, but has now become part of our universal visual language. I find that recreating them in paint is an amazingly powerful expression of the movement and speed. Generally the motion of a crowd is an almost palpable phenomenon, one can sense the fragmentation and flow of the movement, and it is these qualities of motion that are so redolent of the urban experience, and which I try to capture in my work.