Henni Alftan: Contour

10 Jun-30 Jul 2022


“I want to picture only the bare minimum amount of elements necessary to convey whatever the subject of the painting is. So that the paint can still be there as itself, as paint and as tableau.” – Henni Alftan

Based on a process of observation and deduction, Alftan’s figurative works are constructions of lines, proportions, and flat planes of colors, interspersed with intricate patterns and details. Each visually coherent work is carefully predetermined in a drawing. Alftan’s paintings act similarly to words as they form our unconscious mind and frame our perception of the outer and inner world.

“I guess my paintings look like how I would describe things, rather than how they are. Unlike with photography, I can draw a tree “in general”. A tree that doesn’t really resemble any specific tree but corresponds to the idea of a tree. Kind of like with words.” – Henni Alftan

In their composure and precision of the framing, the works are often reminiscent of movie stills or isolated moments in a narrative, however, the scenes and objects have no obvious context and their meaning remains a mystery. They rather trigger the human need to make sense of things and to establish connections. This is also reflected in the exhibition title Contour which refers to the visible shape of things, an outline representing or bounding the form of something.

Domestic settings, such as hallways, stairs, and windows, provide universally recognizable backgrounds against which the artist imposes her subtle visual twists. Her motifs appear mundane; working on making the familiar stand out, she focuses on what we see but might have missed, thus conjuring the space outside the paintings.

By evoking the unsettling feeling that something significant is out of sight or effaced, Alftan’s paintings build a certain tension, urging to actively look instead of passively see. It is her intention to explore what happens in the deliberate spaces between and outside the paintings boarders.

In her practice, she examines the threshold where personal connection and recognition transform paint into image and image into meaning.

Some of her works seem to zoom in, like the close-up of a pile of books of which parts of the title are cut off in Anatomy. None of her works feature a full face or body, there are only glimpses and details of people.

Regardless of what is shown, Alftan ensures to include just enough visual clues for the viewer to reflect on the seemingly missing pieces, with a certain feeling of unease. In her works, Alftan shifts the perspective from what the paintings represent to how they are, thus detaching them from the tangible world.

Henni Alftan (b. 1979, Helsinki) lives and works in Paris.  Institutional group exhibitions include those at ENSA Limoges, École Nationale Supérieur d’Art (2020); Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art, Vaasa (2018); Hämeenlinna Art Museum, Finland and Musée des Beaux-Arts de Brest (both 2017) and Amos Anderson Art Museum (2015). Alftan’s works are included in the collections of the Helsinki Art Museum; Amos Rex, Helsinki; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Dallas Museum of Art, EMMA Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Finland and the Kuntsi Museum of Modern Art, Vaasa.

Selected works


Henni Alftan: Contour | Press Release