«What has captivated me in art is its infinite freedom»
Hana Jaeger is an Israeli artist settled in Madrid since 2020 and her artwork is influenced by german neo expressionism from the 1970s. She is telling a story, short and simple, true and sincere, devoid of flowery language and superfluous words. Daily life of anonymous people, those who nobody pay heed of and situated in the margins such as the infirm, labourers, families, military, convicts among many others. Her oeuvre is presented in diverse formats, from big canvases to small cardboard boxes with a free brushstroke unafraid of getting smeary anytime. We met this sincere and sensitive artist.
– You have been a Mathematics teacher, later specialising in Communication. At what point did you decide you wanted to dedicate yourself to art?
I didn’t decide…it just happened naturally. I slipped into it I went to an art school and there it happened. I realized that that what I want to do. I left my job in mathematics, and dedicated myself to art. During the previous years, I’d been dealing with craft, which well prepared me for working in art. Many people see my turning from mathematics to art as a surprising deviation, but I think that there’s a great deal of creativity in mathematics, just like in art. Nevertheless, what has captivated me in art is its infinite freedom. Here there are no strict rules like in mathematics. You’re free to do anything: «We painters have the same freedom granted to poets and the madmen.» said painter Paolo Veronese.
«there’s a great deal of creativity in mathematics, just like in art»
«what has captivated me in art is its infinite freedom. Here there are no strict rules like in mathematics»
– You carried out your career in Israel; how did it influence your work and your way of creating? How does the environment inspire an artist?
I came ‘tabula rasa’ to my art studies, like a child taking its first steps, but with much more maturity and a rich life load. I feel that this combination has contributed greatly to the nature of my creativity both in my essence and in my handwriting. Without being aware of it, and as someone who grew up in the home of Holocaust survivors, a melancholy chord has permeated my works. The house I grew up in was a normative and dedicated home, but only ostensibly so. It was a wounded home. Perhaps that’s why I deal more with the marginal and the weak, contemplate the day-to-day people, those we don’t see, the transparents, and document the moments that pass us by unnoticed, but I bestow full splendour on them all. I bring them from backstage to the front of the stage.
«I deal more with the marginal and the weak, contemplate the day-to-day people, those we don’t see, the transparents»
«I bestow full splendour on them all. I bring them from backstage to the front of the stage»
Exploration of people living their life on the margins seems to address the viewers to a very subtle still effective socio-political criticism. Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco once stated, «the artist’s role differs depending on which part of the world you’re in. It depends on the political system you’re living under». Not to mention that almost everything, ranging from Caravaggio’s Inspiration of Saint Matthew to Joep van Lieshout’s works, could be considered political. I agree with Bob Dylan, that said that the artist’s role is to deal with his work, to bring out what he believes in, otherwise, if the work is didactic or tendentious, it doesn’t work well. It loses its sincerity. In painting I deliver my own self as a person who’s very much involved in what’s happening all around. I’ve thereby created some sort of statement, politically and socially. As an artist one can’t live in a bubble, detached from the environment, otherwise one’s work becomes irrelevant and, in my opinion, also boring. And I, as an opinionated woman, certainly expose my opinion on that subject in my art as well. For the political realm is the sphere of human activity that deals with the forces operating in society and that’s what I’m dealing with, only from my personal angle. I do not connect it particularly to the part of the world in which you happen to be. Emotions like compassion, morality, and social justice are universal values that nations and political systems lack to some degree or another, some more and some less. It’s very hard for me when it comes to a severe total eclipse in certain places. Of course, what happens around me is exposed to my eyes affects my creativity even more. If only things could somehow come close to perfection in most parts of the world.
«As an artist one can’t live in a bubble, detached from the environment, otherwise one’s work becomes irrelevant»
«what happens around me is exposed to my eyes affects my creativity even more»
– You allow for an open reading, a great multiplicity of meanings: associative possibilities seem to play a crucial role in your pieces. How do you view the concepts of the real and the imagined playing out within your works?
All my works are untitled. Open, unravelled reading is very important for me. They say that an artist knows what he wants to create but doesn’t know what he has eventually created. The moment you have completed your work and exposed it to the viewer it is expropriated from you. The subjects in my work are universal, and it’s so interesting and surprising to hear from people how each one connects. Each one with whatever he’s brought from the load he carries, from his life, from his world. There are those who see sadness in a certain work and others who sometimes see humour there. Work should be multi-layered.
The world represented in my works calls for thinking about the voyeuristic experience of painting. It is a world in which peeping turns out to be an impossible, unfocused contemplation of a kind that is trapped in the contours of fantasy. The works direct the gaze toward the body language of the subject of the painting, the forbidden gaze echoing questions about its ownership, about the prison of the gaze. The painting suggests the toughness of disorder, the liquidity of the sign, dirty in one world but clean in another. The power of the painting is in the looking at the heart of existence, in order to make its perversions reverberate.
«The moment you have completed your work and exposed it to the viewer it is expropriated from you»
«The power of the painting is in the looking at the heart of existence, in order to make its perversions reverberate»
– You say you tell true and sincere stories with no artifice through your work; what stories interest you and what is your work process like?
A well-known Israeli artist Pichhadze asserted that life is like a snowball that rolls and in time more and more life stories stick to it and in the end enters the studio. My biographical background certainly resonates in my work, whether I like it or not. I paint things that are here and now. Everything is close at hand; simple small scenes and I tell them my way. Even through my father’s Interior Code Painting —an autobiographical idiom that appears and reverberates in my paintings— the scenes seem to be universal ones and convey such familiar emotions that anyone can relate to them. My inner self is expressed in the way the stories are presented, in the characters, in the places, in the interaction between them, in the composition, in the palette that I choose, and even in the manner of applying the paint. In my opinion, good art can’t be detached from direct experience. It’s got to burst out from the artist’s bowels. I think that the artist’s hands are extensions of the heart.
«My inner self is expressed in the way the stories are presented, in the characters, in the places, in the interaction between them, in the composition, in the palette that I choose, and even in the manner of applying the paint»
«good art can’t be detached from direct experience»
– Your work reminds many times of the expressionist movement. Do you feel linked in any way with it? Did it inspire your work process?
Yes, I admire the German neo-expressionism and especially Rainer Fetting. At the beginning of my career, I used to paint abstract which, on looking back, turned out to be for me an excellent exercise in composition, range of colours, application of paint and brush strokes, etc. I was looking at the objects I drew from above, from bird’s eyes or actual frontal views, brush-stained paintings, and gradually I began to sharpen the stain to something concretely figurative. And the paintings flowed out as if they’d been waiting for years to see the light of day, to feel the fresh air, and with them the subjects. Somewhat like Degas peeping at dancers behind the scenes I peep at people (mostly men) in everyday scenarios. The subjects of the paintings are without pathos. They’re of a prosaic anti heroic stature. They’re of a kind that are sometimes not worth a second look. But I see them as worth painting and brought from behind the scenes into the foreground. The paintings are low key, at times exposed and other times radiating acute feeling. With no cynicism or over criticism, the paintings turn a spotlight on them. The palette of colours is accordingly of minor and major half tones. The people in the painting are antiheroes, underdogs, weaklings, vulnerable like in the German expressionism I use for inspiration. There’s a social expression in my works stemming from an intimately non-defiant place.
«They’re of a kind that are sometimes not worth a second look. But I see them as worth painting and brought from behind the scenes into the foreground»
«With no cynicism or over criticism, the paintings turn a spotlight on them»
– You generally paint on canvas, but also on cardboard boxes, where labels and signs are part of the composition. Why did you start with this line of work?
In addition to my paintings on large size canvases I like to paint on cardboard boxes because what else could be as much connected as they are to the subjects of my paintings than those everyday items, always available, transient, marginal, and unimportant. I collect them from diverse parts of the world and give them a renewed life. They’re not used only as a bed for the painting, they’re an integral part of the painting. The cardboard boxes are of various sizes ranging from the miniature, for mobile phones or jewellery, and up to the very large, for refrigerators, etc. And in effect they’re more than paintings, they’re objects. In 2013 I lived for several months in Berlin and then spent an Artist’s residency at the Cite’ International Des Arts in Paris for about six months. Because of the size of the studio and the inability to work in large formats, and because the bedroom was part of the studio, which prevented me from working in oils, I painted on paper and small cardboard boxes. These works can be viewed on my website. When I returned to my studio, I switched to very large formats as if to release the energies accumulated in Paris. I continue adamantly to paint on both, canvas, and cardboard boxes, since they stimulate and challenge me in different ways.
«I like to paint on cardboard boxes because what else could be as much connected as they are to the subjects of my paintings than those everyday items, always available, transient, marginal, and unimportant»
– A wish you would like to come true
I know it will sound a bit megalomanic, but I really wish the world to be a much better place. Beside the sustainability, I wish for peace, as the late Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin said “No more wars, no more bloodshed”.
And if I may, a little personal wish – to be a better Spanish speaker so I will be able to talk about my art and communicate better with my colleagues.
«I really wish the world to be a much better place»