Just what is it that makes Ariel Hassan's paintings so alive, so freshly compelling?
In them, to be certain, one can immediately see the familiar lineaments of the micro/macro cosmos pushed beyond cliche. Hassan's titles suggest imbrication with the up front and physical, with bodily events, perhaps, and their electrical correlations. Yet the artist also talks of aspiring to be a satellite. It is, apparently, no coincidence the pictures could pass, at a first glance, for NASA photographs of earth or Hubble details of gaseous fields, as well as chemical admixtures much closer to hand. Straight away we have polar extremes, the close up and the long shot, combined as if one. The works look like a species of Abstract Expressionism at first glance, while closer inspection reveals a careful hand has been at work--another enriching opposition. The pictures effectively embody indications of chaotic creation and a controlling, dispassionate intelligence.
The artist very consciously deploys this binary as a key part of his modus operandi. The resultant paintings manifest the proposition that the universe can be beautiful, even as they bear the marks of the artist's mediation of that beauty, his necessary participation in the processes concerned. Beauty, we might allow, is not the consequence of an aesthetician's recipe book, or purely an effect of culture, but the result of a particular dynamic between an individual and particular prompts 'out there'. The fullest experiences of beauty invoke precognitive and cognitive levels of understanding working across a register of the inchoately biological to the variously cultural--from the deep, even the dumb, to the 'cool'. All of this one might sense in looking at Hassan's work, adding to the satisfaction it offers.
The work, then, manifests and moves towards synthesising the two principal and opposing attitudes commonly held towards the production and experience of visual imagery. The first one might call the Reception Theory, which has it that beauty (or truth) is objectively exists, and we receive it if our antennae are sensitive enough. Much more fashionable in recent decades is what one might designate the Projection Theory, that the eye of the beholder projects what beauty it finds through the lens of cultural conditioning. The former animates traditional Aboriginal art, Australia's greatest art movement to date, so historical contingency alone might give pause to idly rejecting it - place, we should grant, is not necessarily irrelevant to art and culture (and we might note in passing that Hassan's work is nothing if it is not also a kind of mapping). Beauty theory within analytic philosophy gives contemporary logical support to such perspectives, just as Hassan's prints and sculptures, in focussing on the brain and skull, draw particular attention to the role of mind and body in the production and content of his work.
But back to my initial question. The viewer of Hassan's paintings becomes conscious of the artist watching himself as he scrupulously positions each mark. It is a little like viewing a Cezanne, though the result looks far more like late than early modernism, while invoking a range of contemporary artists, from Gerhard Richter to Glenn Brown, in its ultra-careful reworking of a familiar style. The work suggests what some would regard as an oxymoron, an intelligent abstract expressionism. Here lies much of the pleasure, surely: the joy of myriad forms including unexpected colour shifts and tonal leaps--sudden greens in predominantly pink paintings, for example, and richly dark vacancies in otherwise high key canvases--coupled with the reassurance of high intelligence.
Ian North, 2006