There is a trace of Pablo Picasso’s Famille de Saltimbanques, 1905, in the dozen paintings here. Rendered in broad, gestural brushstrokes applied in cynically cheerful hues, the sober expressions worn by Xenia Hausner’s subjects deviate from the brightness of each scene, much like the severe faces of Picasso’s acrobats seem to contradict their merry garb. Take Marriage Story, 2022, with its somber couple and indistinct setting, which is made stranger by colorful abstract forms, like the bolts of cloth that are at once draping and unnaturally geometric. The allusion to Picasso is appropriate, given that Hausner’s conceptual queries concerning “beauty and dread”—and the fine line between them—explicitly reference Rainer Maria Rilke, whose Fifth Elegy (of the Duino Elegies) was inspired by the Spaniard’s Rose Period.
Hausner’s sources extend fittingly to popular culture as well. Lazy Sue, 2021, recalls Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) in its garish portrayal of a frayed-looking woman whose nose bleeds into her mouth as she smokes over the shoulder of a possible lover. In With Love, Xenia, 2022, three figures hover uneasily over the picture plane. Two clasp a wreath of roses and the other points a camera toward the viewer, staging a complex ricochet of gazes. Hausner’s experience in set design clearly informs her artistic practice, enabling her to theatrically illustrate her ideas and to create environments in which her sitters become something like characters, if ones untethered from any overt story line. In Five Pound Orange, 2022, a woman’s face, demurely turned down, is set within an antique postage stamp from British Malaya, a mise-en-abyme portrait partly obscured by a fuel pump and fronds of a palm tree. It is perhaps here, in this vibrant painting shadowed by the brutality of empire, that Hausner’s fascination with beauty and terror finds its most cogent expression.