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Karl Haendel at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects by New American Paintings

Karl Haendel’s “Informal Family Blackmail” at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects (on view through July 7th) is something of a mashup of experiences.  Moving from one constructed space to another, visitors journey from Hanedel’s world of photorealistic graphite drawings on paper, through a large room with a movie projection, and to a backroom about fear, security, and insecurity.  – Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor


Karl Haendel | Scheme, 2011, Pencil on paper, 81” x 103.” Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

The gallery quite aptly calls this “a psychologically layered exhibition.”  As I moved from one room to the next, I experienced different feelings, changed my perceptions, and underwent sensory overloads and constant transitions.

Framed by the entryway, sits one of the show’s flagship pieces called “Scheme.”  It is a huge pencil drawing about seven by eight feet tall, featuring four large football players, with the central figure in limbo: somewhere on the verge of making a play and being tackled.


Scheme — DETAIL.  Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

It is photorealistic from afar, with only the crease between the two large paper canvases calling attention to the paper and medium itself.  Up close though, the crosshatching and pencil markings are more apparent.  Specifically, the facial features of these players blew me away.  The details were beautifully gentle, subtle, muddled, and abstracted in the rounded facial curvatures and non-details beneath their shaded helmets.  Yet, with just three steps back again, the drawing returned to being completely realistic and photographic.


Installation view of third room. Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

Karl Haendel | Angry Dog #3, 2008, Pencil on paper, 30” x 22.” Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

The third room of the exhibit throws you into a Pepto-Bismol pink room with a flurry of drawn images scattered and skewed about the room, almost haphazardly.  It felt like it was of a different time – possibly the 80’s or 90’s – and was hectic and dazzling at the same time.  And up close, the details in such works as “Angry Dog 3” or “Simpsons 4” were significant and fabulous.


Karl Haendel | Simpsons #4, 2012, Pencil on paper, 81” x 103.” Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

In most of these works, it seems that Hanedel is playing with seriality and using his hand to call to attention these repetitions in postage stamps, as with “Simpsons 4” or in photographic snapshots, as with “Angry Dog 3,” or in newspapers as with many of the newspaper clippings found in the third gallery.


Installation view of back room. Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

Karl Haendel | Knight #5, 2011, Pencil on paper, 102” x 81.” Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

I found the backroom to be most interesting, perhaps because of the cohesiveness and creativeness of the central theme around which the artwork danced.  Consisting of two large drawings of knights in shining armor, one detailed newspaper-like drawing entitled “Arab Spring,” and eight drawings of newspaper headlines collaged into like-sections, this room seemed to be all about security and the security we seek and/or perceive through news and media (rightfully so or not).


Karl Haendel | Arab Spring, 2012, Pencil on paper, 59” x 89.” Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Karl Haendel | Knight #8, 2011, Pencil on paper, 102” x 81,” — DETAIL.  Courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

One hand-scribbled note in the bottom of “Knight 8” reveals much about the room.  It says, “These lend to security: Not judged, Accepted, Interested in, Paid attention to, Cared for, Loved, Feel special, BELONG.”   This note combined with the headline collages featuring such verbal themes and titles as “Doubt,” “Change,” “Seek,” “Fear,” “Search,” “Try,” and “Hope,” left me with goose bumps. The room really moved me because the simplistic words carry a powerful message.

The juxtaposition of the faceless knights, the enthused faces in “Arab Spring,” and the newspaper collages made me think about our notions of security differently – and I thought about the words and images and perhaps false sense of security we blanket ourselves in daily.


Karl Haendel | Seek, 2012, Pencil on paper, 26″ x 40.”  Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Karl Haendel and Petter Ringbom | Questions for My Father, 2011, Red footage transferred to HD Video, 12:10 minutes, Edition 1 of 3 + 2 AP.  Movie-still courtesy of Ellen C. Caldwell.

I went back to the second room of the exhibit last, because this featured a large projected film that the artist made in collaboration with Petter Ringbom. (I find it a bit jarring to sit down to watch a film amidst a show, so I came to sit and observe after taking in the other rooms.)  This film “Questions to my Father” featured a series of young men asking questions of their respective fathers.  It is about life, about death, and about everything in between: sex, drugs, marriage, aging, sickness, and fidelity.  Close-ups of changing male faces and voices flash before you, asking everything you might have ever thought to ask your father and some things you may not have.  Blame, guilt, sadness, and anger surface, resonate, and then hide back again under more mundane questions.

As a whole, the entire show really is a mashup: rather than experiencing a smooth flow and cohesive experience, as one might in many more typical gallery spaces, Hanedel’s world brings you into the discrepant spaces between his drawings and between the rooms themselves, giving you time to think, ponder, and revel in those spaces between.

Karl Haendel’s “Informal Family Blackmail” runs at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects through July 7th.  Haendel earned his MFA at UCLA in 2003 and has shown in international gallery and museum exhibits.  This is his second solo exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.

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