Alla Prima Painting Made of Realism, Terror, and the Everyday


by Christoph Tannert (Translation: Mitch Cohen) 


Are we in a haunted house somewhere on the outskirts of a city? This can’t be the Weimar Classicism conception of beauty, which dreamt of the unity of inner and outer beauty and of the bodily expression of an internal unity. Simone Haack’s pictures are tied to a subtle kind of horror. There is no question: there is something evil about such children.

Horror is a reality. It comes out of life – more from souls than from things. In a dismaying world, horror is normality. It is present, it is practiced, and it clothes itself in the manifestations of bitterness and apathy. Of course, life has infinitely many sides. But with Simone Haack, it is forgotten grandness and wholeness that grows out of resigned acceptance. One’s eyes open wide in horror. But one’s lips don’t open.

Our world, say Simone Haack’s pictures, already carries within itself the seeds of its self-destruction. The obstinate crisis is our new reality – that’s the inkling these children have.


The series “Fictional Portraits”, which the artist began in 2006, comprises ten middle-format pictures – all of them quiet, technically perfect studies of faces in oil on untreated cotton cloth that display their rules with connoisseurship – from the gently oscillating transitions between light and shadow, or more precisely the disturbingly shimmering modulations of color, to the conceptual effort she expends to create tension by bringing the figures’ intricate interior lives and the pleasurable unfolding of difficult dilemmas to the surface of the skin. We recognize a singular giftedness that thinks as precisely as possible about color tone. Her kind of alla prima painting has a kind of devotion to precision that is simultaneously a rejection of expressive, improvisational outpourings of the heart.

Without a doubt, Simone Haack has a predilection for faces and visions; and the goosebump-producing art with which the artist again and again circles a sharp focus on the insidious gives the “Fictional Portraits” a key position in her young oeuvre. They skillfully provide a deep insight into a discomforting inner world.

This is an open series. From time to time the artist is driven back to these studies in watching, feeling, and finding a language for it all. As if she still had an account to square away. In many of her pictures, the threads are visible that connect a new composition with the off-key heads of her little monsters. Simone Haack operates so skillfully off-key that it can seem eerie. Cinematic light dominates the scenery. Or is it the light from a television set before which these beings have frozen solid? From the most entirely everyday situations, something frightening unexpectedly erupts, “which is different from reality, but could really be that way”. (1) The artist explains, “I thereby give the eerie exactly as much scope as I give absurdity, irony, and humor, because an ambivalence in the pictorial expression and in how it can be read is important to me. Horror and calamity are foreshadowed. They never show themselves directly, but in inklings.” (2)

In many cases, her motifs are based on her own or found photos whose expressive potential is honed in the course of the process of painting to the degree that Simone Haack “constructs a kind of parallel track to reality”. (3)

Her pencil drawings on paper take a rank equal to her paintings. They are unmistakable testimonies to craft. In their gentleness and their transitions and gradations between dark and light, which can be called almost tender, Simone Haack’s drawings have something extraordinarily sensual about them. This is pure pictorial tone, totally authentic; the message that sounds here comes from her innermost – sometimes bucolically like the songs of the Air album Virgin Suicides, which Simone Haack is very fond of, sometimes melancholy to the core, but always incredibly systematic.

She has managed to artfully balance out the game between sobriety and nightmare. Curiously, but timorously in equal measure, one follows her aesthetic adventure vacation between the “Trony” sketch and documentary reproduction, between childlike rejection of the world and the secrets of the adult world. Obediently, as if one were pulled by an invisible hand, one follows them through the underground labyrinth that they discover, between dream and reality. And, just like them, one fears what awaits one at the end of the tunnel. The mutual relativization of dream reality and everyday reality leads directly into a misty, David Lynch-like vision in which showdown and revelation move toward each other. Simone Haack makes no secret of her admiration for David Lynch and that she has learned from his films. If we accordingly referred to a non-rationalistic method, like Alfred Kubin’s central metaphor of “dream experience”, we would have to note that its artistic pictorialization steps beyond our waking, rationality-determined consciousness. Haack’s “Fictional Portraits” are anchored precisely on this line of demarcation. One must film reality like a dream and the dream like a reality, the filmmaker Luis Buñuel once said. This is the best guidance for approaching these wonderful pictures.

With beguiling forbearance, Simone Haack illuminates the “hermaphroditic twilight area” of the “soul’s gloaming”, of which Kubin spoke in 1939 in his “Shadow Worlds”, and joins the side of the great lone-wolf artist in other ways, as well. Without trying to ingratiate themselves to modern habits of seeing, her pictures refuse the short-windedness of the zeitgeist machine, but they are anything but outdated. The monotony of the present often has its source in lack of imagination; but the “Fictional Portraits” arise from a clear mental stance that wants to be the required art principle of questioning diverse realities and concepts of reality. Painting seldom makes one as happy as this painting does.

These pictures fascinate with a mixture of realism, horror, and the mundane. They develop urgency because Simone Haack understands how to paint without frills, credibly, with a love of detail. But the point is less facts than feelings. The painter attracts and repels us at the same time. She tells her stories from the viewpoint of a figure in the picture that tries out being a child and youthful threshold situations, androgyny and role playing; a figure whose fears are of a very different kind than are those of the adults; and a figure that mixes real events with its own world of imagination. No matter how monstrous these pictures seem, Simone Haack is committed to a value that seems to have gone out of fashion: veracity. True knowledge always arises behind or beside what one calls reality or civilization. Haack’s pictorial language is so finely attuned, every color accent and every atmospheric nuance seems so well thought through, that these pictures indeed become a visual experience.





Simone Haack in a talk with the author in her studio on Feb. 15, 2012