My Inner Demon Never Sleeps Alone
The Hole Los Angeles
May 6 – June 23, 2023
Currently at The Hole in Los Angeles, gardens of anomalous delights, more mystical than earthly, await our arrival. Here, artist Matthew Hansel seems to have picked up where Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch left off, imbuing his own brand of modern surrealism in My Inner Demon Never Sleeps Alone.
These paintings and drawings (all from 2023) are properly debaucherous, challenging our moral postures through enchanting, provocative imagery. Themes of decadence and sexuality open forbidden doorways into the far recesses of the subconscious, a place where beings are free to explore their paganistic fantasies.
In Dancing on the Toes of Our Shadows, for instance, two nude lovers embrace atop a dining table, surrounded by a flurry of ghoulish caricatures, flailing wine canisters, and a beguiling violinist – an elegant balance of harmonious chaos to which the subjects comfortably surrender. As in many of Hansel’s compositions, the painting is speckled with numerous allegorical details, such as an open cabinet revealing a trumpet bearing butt and above it, a dish with protruding tongue.
It’s as if Hansel visually conveys what our shadow selves would look like should they be invited to the party – the inner demons of lust and desire which we so dutifully keep tucked away. Given free reign, childlike curiosity will merge with adult depravity, to summon mischievous phantoms and irrational scenarios. The painting Morning’s Light We Can’t Forget, It Warms Us Like an Ember, Illuminating with Regret, The Nights We Can’t Remember, whose title nearly says it all, is an epic example of what might unfold if left to our vices. Here, an irresistible orgy is comprised of all manner of bodies – although humanoid, some bear hues of red, yellow, and even shimmering turquoise scales. From whichever realms these pixielike beings have drifted in from, they are joined in an orchestra of bodily fascination and pleasure.
Not only is Hansel a skillful wielder of the imagination, but also of the brush. His inspiration is infused with qualities of the Dutch golden age, as demonstrated by a rich color palette, precise detail, and expansive depth of field. In particular, the artist gives credit to Vermeer for the collection of paintings which grace the rear gallery, whose detailed close-ups of tapestry designs resemble lush, ornate landscapes. Moonlight on Moss Covered Cliffs is a sultry gathering of blueish-green creases, which our miniature selves may be tempted to take a stroll among or get lost in.
Through a delicious blend of profanity, whimsy, and romance, there is something natural, almost innocent about this series. Perhaps Hansel, rather than meaning to emphasize the dirty ways of the mind, more so points to the possibilities of play within the imagination. By embracing these facets, we may even discover that the demons that lurk therein are not as scary as we think.
Cover image: Moonlight on Moss Covered Cliffs; all images courtesy of The Hole Los Angeles, photographed by the author.