Henni Alftan: Contour | Sprüth Magers

The painting below is called Tinted. It really stood out to me when I visited the artist’s show at Sprüth Magers, which opened this week. The painter, Henni Alftan, is Finland-born and Paris-based. She takes her inspiration from everyday mundane human scenes, except the human beings are absent. A prevailing theme in exhibitions featured here recently, including one from Thomas Demand (at the same gallery) and another from Hwang Seontae.

Alftan’s scene is viewed through a half-opened car window: a strip of beach, a flat sea, a powdery blue sky. The tint of the window is marvellously cleverly done, the patch of sea uncovered by the glass is blue and clear, the glass-covered sea slightly more smoky, amorphous.

Henni Alftan - ‘Tinted’

The atmosphere is of unsettling absence. The car must have a driver, but they’re out of view. The car is probably moving - is it likely a stationary car would have its window open? - but there are no signs of motion.

Elsewhere, Alftan plays with other absences: a curtain almost conceals a window, a hallway mirror reflects a staircase, a pile of books is carefully composed, but slightly out of whack, with only half the title on the single visible spine appearing in frame.

These partial obliterations continue in the human figures depicted in the paintings: a hand here, a shoulder here, a neckline there. Perhaps the most telling is ON/OFF, a pair of paintings of light switches, and fingers closed around them, suspended during the action of switching.

It’s a diptych of which each painting is in a different room. We don’t know we’ve seen a pair until we’ve seen both. A typical move from such a withholding artist. She slightly obscures the meaning; like the sea is slightly tinted, when seen through a car window.

Henni Alftan: Contour is at Sprüth Magers (London). 10 June - 30 July 2022