Berlin, Bülowstrasse 7 at the intersection with Zietenstrasse. A gigantic pin-up overlooks the passengers of the elevated railway with a languidly winking gaze. The weathpaste by Dutch Handiedan inaugurated last September as part of the initiatives organized by Urban nation. It covers the whole surface of the building and can be seen as an oversized version of Handiedan‘s astonishing art.
Handiedan‘s artistic universe revolves around some leading visual motifs and yet it amazes thanks to its complexity, both in terms of formal composition and in terms of the technique she uses for making them. These two aspects together determine the irresistible charm of her art.
Undisputed protagonists of Handiedan‘s sculptural hand-cut collages, her vintage pin-ups immediately recall the burlesque genre. However if we look into them further many sources of inspiration are revealed: the Neo-Classical and Victorian ages, the Parisian Belle Époque, up to the 1940’s and Post-War sexy imagery. But none of Handiedan‘s ‘models’ really existed. In fact each of them is composed through by assembling anatomical parts of different pre-existing images. The newly formed woman is the result of a complex layering process that gives to Handiedan‘s art a three-dimensional quality and makes a collaged bas-relief out of every work. Her cheerfully sexy creatures seem to lively bend in and out of their background.
Notwithstanding the ‘less is more’ design theory so prevalent in Dutch culture, Handiedan‘s art responds more to a fascination with minute ornamental details. In each work the background is as much intriguing as the feminine creatures emerging from it. Filled with tiny exquisite details, the backgrounds incorporates old postage stamps, antique currencies, playing cards, music sheets and all sorts of odd antiques, even cigar bands. They are composed as to create elegantly decorative motifs and patterns.
Once Handiedan has gathered all the visual fragments and having in mind an atmosphere rather than a specific subject, she ‘plays’ with them on the computer. When the digital design satisfies her, she prints the elements that will form the layered collage on paper. She also uses old wood and even zinc for the layering of the final image. Her beautifully complex work is completed by her own drawings and pen doodles marking both the background and the body parts of the pin-ups. Mounted into antique ornamented frames, the works are finally ready in all their exuberant liveliness.
If Handiedan‘s pin-ups look like something in between an orientally adorned femme fatale from a noir film, a sexually joyful pin-up from a 1950’s calendar and a tattooed rockabilly gal, each work also works as a treasure trove of symbols scattered on the background in form of decorative detail. For instance, her most recent work – on show at Roq La Rue Gallery (Seattle) till 8 November – focuses on Cosmology, Easter Philosophy and Sacred Geometries.
Though she has opted for a monochrome treatment, her new series confirms the complexity and depth coming from this form of layered collage, where everything is hand-cut and assembled with great care. The new pieces are as much proof of Handiedan’s accomplished technique as the previous ones (if not more).
I will be eternally grateful to the Internet for it enables me to encounter an incredible amount of inspiring art. And yet, facing pictures of Handiedan‘s work I cannot but feel that I want to experience them in the flesh, my gaze slowly wandering and indulging on each tiny detail, and all my senses excited by it.
All images ©Handiedan and courtesy of the artists.