Still, the show wouldn’t have been so successful or had such an impact if not for the central painting, much smaller than the rest. . . . This painting, viewed properly (although one could never be sure of viewing it properly), was an ellipsis of selfportraits, sometimes a spiral of self-portraits (depending on the angle from which it was seen), seven feet by three and a half feet, in the center of which hung the painter’s mummified right hand.
It happened like this. One morning, after two days of feverish work on the selfportraits, the painter cut off his painting hand. He immediately applied a tourniquet to his arm and took the hand to a taxidermist he knew, who’d already been informed of the nature of the assignment. Then he went to the hospital, where they stanched the bleeding and proceeded to suture his arm.
—Roberto Bolaño, 2666
Almine Rech Gallery presents Pictures of M. and Other Pictures, Michael Hilsman’s first solo show with the gallery.
A recurring figure in Hilsman’s large-scale paintings shows a marked sense of vulnerability: With graying beard and balding head, the man hides himself from the viewer, lurking behind oversize foliage or covering his face with a gingham napkin. Only pieces of his body are visible, sometimes surrounded by other human parts—a buried bone lies below the man’s supine figure in ‘M.’ with Laundry; an extracted molar floats next to his head in ‘M.’ with Idioms (Tooth and Nail). Like Bolaño’s fictional painter who enshrines his own amputated hand in a self-portrait, the fragmented figure of “M.,” a painted character in close proximity to Hilsman himself, underscores the body’s frailty, its awkwardness and mortality, and the disarming imperatives of being an artist—the discomforts of public exposure, the frequent mortification of self-expression.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)