In her first solo show at Hauser & Wirth London, Austrian born artist Maria Lassnig (b. 1919) will exhibit a selection of new large-scale paintings. Her work is often deeply introspective and addresses the physicality of bodily experience. Lassnig frequently locates her psychological self as subject, and works such as ‘Die Trauer’ (Mourning) and ‘Grüne Köpfe’ (Green Heads) are prime examples of her self-analytical style. However, in her new works the artist introduces the substantial body of a male sitter. This is somewhat of a departure from Lassnig’s usual preference for her self as the subject.
Lassnig describes the group of exhibited works as “drastic paintings”. They are significant expressions of her belief that “truth resides in the emotions produced within the physical shell”. Her distinct expression in the use of colour is articulated by a unique definition of the image, often treated with a playful irony and humour that characterises Lassnig’s works. However, the term “drastic“ should not be understood as an assumed category as neither Lassnig herself nor her paintings allow for classification. Lassnig’s self-titled painting styles such as ‘Body-Sensation-Painting’ (‘Körpergefühlsmalerei’) or ‘Paint-Flux’ (‘Malflüsse’) alter frequently, echoing the state of her body and mind at that particular time. She acknowledges this process, stating that
“The more tired the body is, the more realistic the painting becomes. When you are in shape, you are more aware of the body’s sensations. At the beginning, my body-awareness paintings were more linear, it was all about the body’s framework. Then some really abstract things happened, changes occurred and I paid more attention to the carnal aspect”.
After her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Lassnig lived and worked in both Paris and New York. She later returned to Vienna, and became the first female to be appointed Professor of Painting at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna. In this academic capacity, Lassnig proceeded to exert a tremendous influence upon successive generations of artists.
Lassnig’s oeuvre extends beyond painting to incorporate a body of drawings, sculptures and animated films. In recent years she has received several accolades, including the Max Beckmann and Roswitha Haftmann Awards and the Rubens Prize of Siegen. In addition to her many solo exhibitions in Austria, Germany, the USA and France, Lassnig has also participated in the Venice Biennale (1982) and in the Kassel Documenta (1982 and 1997). Even though Maria Lassnig has attained critical acclaim and received several awards for her painting, the range and significance of her work is barely known outside of German-speaking Europe. The presentation of these eight paintings in London is therefore an in-depth introduction to Maria Lassnig.