Matthew Hansel

ALL the flowers of the spring
Meet to perfume our burying;
These have but their growing prime;
And man does flourish but his time.-
-JOHN WEBSTER, Vanitas Vanitatum

The iconography of vanitas painting solidified at the turn of the seventeenth century. Dutch artists defined the genre by depicting objects that remind the viewer of their mortality. The inevitability of death and vanity of earthly pleasures was displayed via symbol; skull, hourglass, burning candle, wilted flower. Some works employed trompe l’oiel techniques to make the painting appear to be falling off the stretcher. The message was clear – the viewer, the artist, even this object will one day parish.

I portray the reoccurring archetype of the struggling artist preoccupied with their enterprise. They foolishly follow their desire to produce, despite their tragic circumstances. Knowing that life is fleeting (as vanitas painting reminds us) they continue this dire pursuit in the hope that their art will live on after they are gone. This generates a conceptual conceit, namely—humans want to be remembered so we make things—and making things that will be remembered is a vital and absurd pursuit.

My paintings literally and figuratively deconstruct the practice of painting. Layering images from 17th century vanitas painting with warped cartoons and trompe l’oeil figurines, my work plays with visual absurdity and challenges prominent hierarchies. The paintings employ multiple modes of representation: history painting, comics, crafts, trompe l’oeil, cartoons, a mix of highbrow and lowbrow. Each object is specific in the form it takes and yet indicates the uncertainty that exists when anything is possible.

The use of trompe l’oeil devices in my work suggest an unspoken truth about artists. Namely, that we are liers. We depict things (forms, space, light, etc.) that don’t exist. We ask the viewer to believe or at least to bear witness. I often include small porcelain figures sitting on the bottom edge of the canvas facing the painting. They are stand-ins for the viewer, always watching, always present, a witness to my deception.

In the prologue to his book Caterpillage, Harry Berger wrote, “Vanitas embraces both senses of the term vainness: futility and conceit. It is the vanity of being mortal, the vanity of failing to be art, the stupid hope that art can conquer death.” In this statement lies the impetus for the creative process. Artists create objects to live on after they are gone. They leave behind artifacts in hopes that someone will care for and shepherd them forward. It is a life long leap of faith that is as unlikely as it is necessary. My paintings depict the solitary struggle I face as an artist. A struggle born of an irrational belief in a singular vision: my own. It’s a narrow path, equal parts earnest and laughable, beset on both sides by the perils of over thinking it. Fall I have and fall I will. The falls are public, out in the open, in the work. And just like the rodeo clown who gets knocked down, it is the artist’s job to get back up while still entertaining the crowd. Hiding the uncertainty behind the face paint and foam nose.

In addition to traditional vanitas iconography, my paintings contain 19th century cartoon imagery, porcelain tchotchkes and digitally rendered forms. These elements carry varying cultural references and significance. Some seek to painstakingly represent the world as it exists outside of the canvas. Others create an internal world with it’s own logic; separate from that of the viewer’s. They exist in separate hierarchies, yet are equally recognizable. Cartoons are made to be distributed to the populace, paintings are not. The work creates a space where these worlds coexist.

The most significant and radical achievements in painting have involved the use and alteration of space. I want to collapse the traditional space of representational painting and remind the viewer of it’s artifice. I want to create visual layers that lead the viewer from the illusionism of the image out of the painting to the object-hood of the canvas itself. In my paintings, I sometimes include corners of the canvas that appear to be folded. These triangular areas of the linen are left unprimed and unpainted. They appear to be proud of the surface, when in fact they are holes left by the absence of paint. The faux folded corners are a nod to vanitas still life paintings of the 17th century that were made to look dilapidated and falling from the stretcher. In my paintings the folds are abstracted shapes that tie that tradition to the present. Invoking these paintings is a way for me to speak about our need to be remembered. It is this need that leads us to make art objects that record our existence.

Every artist is at times a brash innovator, gifted scholar, cowardly thief and spineless huckster. My inner voice often vacillates between “I’m an artist who is destined to be remembered” and “I’m an imposter with nothing new or important to say”. These opposing voices would, at first blush, seem contradictory. However, they work in tandem, balancing one another – thesis and antithesis – constantly trying to prove each other wrong. Like the subjects of my paintings, I am sanctified by uncertainty. I continue undaunted in my foolhardy vocation. It is my intention to create objects that will live on after I am gone. I want to leave something behind. So, I comically follow faith toward an implausible ending: walking the wire, not looking down, holding my paintbrush, wearing a clown nose.

Lives and works in Brooklyn.


MFA, Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT
BFA, The Cooper Union School of Art, New York, NY


2018 Brand New Gallery, Milan, IT (Upcoming)
2017 PM/AM, London, UK (Upcoming)
2015 MATTHEW HANSEL, Wasserman Projects, Detroit, MI
2010 WITH FLYING COLORS, Yuka Contemporary, Tokyo, JP
2009 HISTORICALISH, The Art Center, Martinsburg, WV
2008 MATTHEW HANSEL, Cerasoli Gallery, Culver City, CA
2007 YOUTH IS WASTED, Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn, NY


(Upcoming) 2017-18
IN THE DEPTH OF THE SURFACE, Pablo’s Birthday, New York, NY
IM/MATERIAL: PAINTING IN THE AGE, Sophia Contemporary, London, UK
WHAT’S UP THE AMERICAS, Curated by Lawrence Van Hagen, London, UK
THE CURATORS’ EGGS, Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY
SUMMER BREAKS, Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, NY
THE TIMES, Flag Art Foundation, New York, NY
PAPII MONTAUK, The Surf Lodge, Montauk, NY
WHAT’S UP NEW YORK, 132 10th Ave, New York, NY
EKPHRASIS, Yours Mine & Ours, New York, NY
GILES, Gagosian Gallery, Athens, GR
FUTURE/FORMER, Hooper Projects, Los Angeles, CA
BOMB POP UP, 1822 Fulton St, Brooklyn, NY
REVERENCE & REVERIE, The Lodge Gallery, New York, NY
THEIR MOUTHS ARE FILLED WITH EARTH, Grizzly Grizzly, Philadelphia, PA
A VARIANT FORM OF LUST, Fine and Raw, Brooklyn, NY
POP-UP BROOKLYN: Three Brooklyn artists showcased in Detroit: Kent Henricksen, Doug Young and Matthew Hansel, Wasserman Projects, Detroit, MI
HELP IS ON THE WAY, Wasserman Projects, Detroit, MI
PAGE 179, ARTFORUM, Brennan & Griffin, New York, NY
HALF.LIFE, 241 Suydam, Brooklyn, NY
UNIVERSAL, Brooklyn Fire Proof, Brooklyn, NY
ANGELICA 01, Yuka Contemporary, Tokyo, JP
TOKYO ART FAIR, Yuka Contemporary Booth, Tokyo, JP
CURLY Q, Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn, NY
OLD SCHOOL, Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn, NY
GIFTED, Cerasoli LeBasse Gallery, Culver City, CA
AQUA ART FAIR, Cerasoli LeBasse Gallery, Miami, FL SPLASH, Cerasoli Gallery, Culver City, CA
SCOPE ART FAIR, Jack the Pelican Presents, New York, NY
DEEP POP, Iona College, New Rochelle, NY
BREVITY’S RAINBOW, Cinders Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
SCOPE ART FAIR, Jack the Pelican Presents, East Hampton, NY
VIRGIN MOBILE RE*GENERATION, Skylight Studios, New York, NY FOUNTAIN ART FAIR, Jack the Pelican Presents, New York, NY
DEEP END, Aidan Savoy Gallery, New York, NY


2017 White Columns Artist Registry
2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Grant Recipient


2016 Hooper Projects, Los Angeles
2006 The Cooper Union Summer Residency Program, New York, NY
1998 Yale Summer School of Music and Art, Norfolk, CT


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Tom McGlynn. “Disappearing, Inc.” The Brooklyn Rail, July 14, 2017. Print
Osman Can Yerebakan. “In “The Times,” Artists Make the Media Their Message.” Artslant, July 21, 2017. Online
Margaret Carrigan. “When the New York Times Becomes Art.” Artsy, June 5, 2017. Online “The Times.” Time Out New York, June 2, 2017. Print
Antwuan Sargent. “81 Artists Explore the Newspapers as Art Object.” Vice, June 18, 2017. Online
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Time Out New York, July 14, 2017. Print
Grayson, Kathy. “Post Analog Painting II.” Anteism, 2017. Print
Kouznetsova, Ekaterina. “Matt Hansel – Reverence & Reverie [Artist to Watch].”, November 16, 2015. Online
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