Cover image: Northern City Renaissance, Mauve Dawn (Mass MoCA #161) [detail, cat. 1]
MOVING WATER • FLEETING LIGHT
STEPHEN HANNOCK MOVING WATER • FLEETING LIGHT Curated by Jason Rosenfeld
5 February – 1 March 2014
Marlborough Fine Art, 6 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BY t: +44 (0) 20 7629 5161 e: firstname.lastname@example.org www.marlboroughfineart.com
fig. 1. The artist’s studio in North Adams, Massachusetts, with Northern City Renaissance schematic on wall. Photo Maeve O’Regan.
fig. 2. Stephen Hannock working in the studio, North Adams, Massachusetts. Photo David Lachman.
BY JASON ROSENFELD, PH.D.
Stephen Hannock was born in Albany, the capital of New York state, in 1951, and first took up art under Daniel Hodermarsky (1924-1999) at Deerfield Academy in northern Massachusetts. He then apprenticed to Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) while studying on exchange at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. In the 1970s, Hannock developed a radical procedure of using unstable phosphorescent acrylic paints in works that presaged the artist’s subsequent fascination with illuminative effects. He then moved to Manhattan in the early 1980s and fully engaged with the downtown contemporary art scene.1 He has spent the past decade back in Massachusetts. Landscape is his predominant motif, either in the form of scenes of nature that serve as settings for the artist’s stories of his life and the histories of the depicted places, told through densely layered text and media, or in smaller, non-specific views painted without added text or media. The latter format allows viewers to engage in a different way, to bring to the works their own experiences, of nature and light, of time and memory. Both approaches are represented in the present exhibition. The titles of Hannock’s works are multiple in their references. They often reveal the depicted location, as well as people who have inspired the artist or to whom the work is dedicated. The addendum, ‘Mass MoCA’ followed by a number is a tip of the cap both to the tradition of numeration in titling in Modernism since the early twentieth century, and the tendency of post-war artists in New York to include their studio locations with numbers in untitled works. It also represents Hannock’s desire to pay tribute to the place where he has resided since 2003, through the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, which serves as a studio and support system for his art, and a collaborator in his involvement in the local art scene. The way Hannock produces these polished landscapes has evolved over multiple decades and is what sets his art apart from his contemporaries. It began as a quest for intense luminosity in the form of radioactive phosphorescent acrylic paintings that were best viewed under black light. This led him to try to produce a commensurate illumination using traditional painting materials. He has worked for a long time with oils, and acrylics
and polished surfaces with multiple clear resin glazes. The results are novel in the history of painting, a medium that has striven for the illusion of three-dimensional depth since the adoption of oil paints in northern Europe in the early 15th century. The pictures in this exhibition all bear some combination of his signature technique of working with acrylics, oils, resin, specially combined brushes, squeegees, pasted papers and photographs, and power sanders to produce light effects hardly rivaled in art. Hannock’s approach involves an intricate layering of glazes of subtly modulated acrylic or oil across the prepared surfaces, repeatedly honing down the paint using power sanders, veneering the final sanded pigment layer with sheets of reflective resin, and then polishing that down to a matt sheen. This allows light to penetrate deeply into the strata of the picture plane and reemerge with an exceptional radiance. In three of the large, historical works on display, Northern City Renaissance, Mauve Dawn (Mass MoCA #161) (cat. 1), Great Falls at Dawn for Xu Bing (Mass MoCA #180) (cat. 2), and Oxbow II, for Frank Moore and Dan Hodermarsky (Mass MoCA #207) (cat. 3), before veneering the sanded paint layer, he pastes carefully positioned material onto the surface, to be trapped like insects in amber under the clear resin. These papers and photographs lie flat in the layers, in a method called papier collé, a form of collage first established in the cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Producing such works is laborious, following the long gestation of a design, and final decisions on colour, tonalities, and framing. For example, to achieve the desired balance of tones and sense of an early dawn light source emanating from the upper right in Northern City Renaissance (cat. 1), Hannock used twelve underpainted colours, and then worked the paint over with squeegee brushes. After that, the surfaces were repeatedly sanded down using power tools while water was sprayed on the canvas ahead of the sanders so it would not burn. After the applications of pigments and sanding of the colours, the pasted materials were put in place and affixed before being further manipulated. Often paint was applied to the pasted materials to meld them better with the picture’s surface. Then, using oil wax crayons in four colours, Hannock wrote text in his distinctive,
fig. 3. The surface of Hannock’s Northern City Renaissance, Mauve Dawn (Mass MoCA #161) in progress. Photo Jason Rosenfeld.
blocky, all-caps print across the surface. With the painting lying on a flat surface, clear resin was then applied in half a dozen layers, resulting in a remarkably mirrored surface (fig. 3). This was subsequently sanded down starting with 220 grit wet/dry paper then progressing to 320 grit, then 400 grit (fig. 2). The result is that the innate reflectiveness of the dried clear resin surface disappears, and the picture becomes matt and emanative of light. A final acrylic varnish unifies the surface. Consequently, the difference from pictures Hannock painted even a few years ago is remarkable. He has now achieved a depth of surface and retention of light that produces a brightness that is as close as he has been able to get to the phosphorescent paintings under black light that he began with in the 1970s (fig. 11).2 Hannock also uses computers and digital imagery to perfect the colours in his pictures.3 He will take a drawing, choose hues, and modulate the array, depth, intensity, and saturation. Initially, the challenge is to find a good foundation, scan or photograph the image, and then tweak it with the computer. After that he will make colour corrections and paint on the smaller digital print, and then repeat the process. Some examples of these painted digital studies for Northern City Renaissance hang in the rear room of the exhibition.
fig. 4. Stephen Hannock, Kaaterskill Falls for Frank Moore and Dan Hodermarsky (Mass MoCA #11), 2005, Acrylic, alkyd, and oil glazes with collage elements on canvas, 108 x 96 inches, 274 x 244 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, © Stephen Hannock.
Hannock’s style continues to evolve. His latest works bear flat and firm surfaces as ever, yet their hardness does not stop them from revealing ever-more depth. There is a long tradition in art of developing smooth, porcelain-like opaque surfaces: of painting on copper, as promoted by the Bolognese Carracci in the seventeenth century, and taken up in eighteenth-century England by artists such as Joseph Wright of Derby, Josiah Wedgwood, and also George Stubbs, who then experimented with enamel paints on biscuit earthenware. Hannock’s pictures, with their admixture of resin and oil or acrylic, have hard surfaces, but the visible layers resemble a more pliant and translucent encaustic. Matt on the top, and increasingly resistant to glare, they seem to deepen into infinite aqueous zones. They depend on the light that is absorbed into their depths, and the angle of the viewer’s vision, to reveal their remarkably layered chromatics.
In the larger historical compositions, these depths contain pasted papers between the underlying pigment layers and the overlaid translucent resin. These buried images, when coupled with the scrawled text, serve multiple purposes. They are barely visible at distance, for while Hannock has been submerging materials in his paint layers for years, he now sites them in such a way that their represented forms meld with topographical features in the compositions. And the reproduced images are smaller than in previous works. Hannock first pasted materials and tackled the challenge of great areas of falling water on a grand scale in Kaaterskill Falls for Frank Moore and Dan Hodermarsky (Mass MoCA #11) of 2005 (fig. 4). Here, Hannock embedded real envelopes and letters, magazine covers, and photographs into the thin layers, but in more recent works he now transforms such source material into diminutive digitally scanned and printed reproductions a few inches high, allowing greater control of their legibility in his canvases. Great Falls at Dawn for Xu Bing (cat. 2) represents his evolution of this process, and mastery of cascades in taking on Niagara, the waterfall with the highest flow rate on earth. He now uses four brushes of various sizes from one to three inches that he wraps together with tape and uses to splotch pigment on to the surface, resulting in depicted water that looks as if it is truly moving. Paint is also applied using broad brushes worked with two hands, a Dahlia hand sprayer, and various sized rubber squeegee brushes to block out areas of light or texture, as in the cliff faces in Great Falls at Dawn, or the buildings in the lower section of Northern City Renaissance. The pasted materials and scrawled text form a kind of flow chart of stories overlaid and integrated into the composition – stories or ‘adventures’, as Hannock refers to them. The latter term is multifaceted. The adventure lies in the artist’s experience of the place represented, the time he has spent there, the people he knew, the people he has come to know who are connected to the locale, and the institutions that proliferate in the depicted region. But the making of the picture is also an adventure, in the cobbling together of visual imagery to paste into the layers, in the recalling of memories and associations to be included, in the production of the work. This creative process involves 5
both intuition and hard research: amassing materials, culling them, adjusting their sizes, placing them in the proper spots, integrating them visually with the painted depiction and as images that interact with and speak to each other and then, in the final step, adding the handwritten text.
fig. 5. Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara Falls, from the American Side, 1867, Oil on canvas, 101 5/8 x 89 1/2 inches, 257.5 x 227.3 cm, Scottish National Gallery.
fig. 6. Joseph Mallord William Turner, Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, 1835, Oil on canvas, 36 5/16 x 48 3/8 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, Widener Collection.
Hannock’s pictures reward close looking. The pasted materials, once noticed, encourage this, and the perks then multiply when the handwritten words become clear. Numerous contemporary artists, from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Anselm Kiefer, have included scribbled phrases across their pictures – a legacy of the advances of Cubism a century ago. But with Hannock, text is not inscrutable or densely symbolic, employing a private language. Its legibility is dependent on proximity, not prior knowledge. One has simply to get close and more intimate with the picture to read the stories – they unspool through letters ribboned across the scenery, and carefully positioned in the overall scheme. In Oxbow II (cat. 3), for example, the unfurled text can read in the foreground, for example, as planted rows of wheat or corn or, in the distance, as undulating rises and falls in the landscape, forming byways glistening with alphabetical headlights streaking across the picture plane. These lines of prose comment on locations imaged, giving histories either personal to the artist, or of relevance to the sites. Sometimes, literal reference slips, and the text represents a form of free association. Hannock does not compose these writings in advance, although the ideas percolate in his mind over time. They are not scripted. Instead, he builds the lines into the topography of the image at a specific point in the process, allowing for spontaneous outpourings. Any resulting slippages of meaning are part of what Hannock refers to as storytelling. Thus, the texts do not necessarily hew closely to the specificities of the imagery they lie atop. It is possible to transcribe each word on his canvases, but that would defeat the purpose – they would become dissembled from the paintings. Hannock’s writing is meant to be experienced as part of a totality, with the paint, the light, and the pasted materials. To remove one element is to destabilize the art. In the large historical pictures Hannock twists time, the physical features of the earth, and chronological memory on
his two dimensional supports. He makes pictures that seem conventionally concave – the idea dating from the Renaissance of a painting as a view into a room or out of a window into deep space – but that warp topography into convexity, as in the way he has brought the cliff faces forward in the Great Falls picture, or the plunging down of the foreground that truncates the rush into deep space in Northern City Renaissance (cat. 1). By contrast, Frederic Edwin Church’s aerial view of the same section of Niagara Falls (fig. 5), despite the canvas’s large scale and vertiginous perspective, is still a view to be considered at a distance. This push and pull in Hannock’s art, wherein distance is mediated by the press forward of geological, geometric, and textual forms, gives his pictures a marked complexity. It is similar to the radical formal ideas in the work of J.M.W. Turner, one of Hannock’s key influences, such as Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight (fig. 6), a Newcastle scene, and one in which Turner demonstrated his characteristic anti-peripheral vision, wherein the edges of the picture are in sharper focus than the explosion of lunar illumination that breaks up legibility in the centre. Notably, Hannock has frequently revisited compositions over his career. He has painted the ‘Oxbow’, a bowed perambulation of the Connecticut River as it snakes through Western Massachusetts, over twenty times since 1994 (cat. 3). These topographically recognizable, yet manipulated and symbolic landscapes, have remained the main focus of his larger-scale historical works. But Hannock’s second mode of landscape painting, smaller works that are not topographically specific and do not feature added text or media, engage the viewer in a different manner. These are represented in the exhibition with low and wide, natural panoramas in Hannock’s most traditional series, the ‘Flooded Rivers’. He has come back to this motif again and again since 1994 – uninhabited waterways with overflown banks, stranded trees, and glistening light effects. These polished oils on canvas or panel share visual affinities and lighting effects with Turner (fig. 7), the nineteenth-century so-called ‘Luminist’ landscapes of Americans John Frederick Kensett, Fitz Hugh Lane, and Martin Johnson Heade, as well as Claude Monet’s Seine landscapes of the 1890s and the riparian nocturnes of James McNeill Whistler
fig. 7. Joseph Mallord William Turner, Regulus, 1827, reworked 1837, Oil on canvas, 895 x 1238 mm, © Tate, London, 2014.
(fig. 8). Hannock often uses a transfer Rorschach effect in creating certain elements, as in the sun in Flooded River, White Light (Mass MoCA #172) (cat. 6). He paints onto a loose piece of paper, folds it in half onto itself, and then presses the mirror forms onto the picture’s surface. This segment is then glazed with resin and polished until the bilateral solar or vegetative form carries a startlingly intense glow without the disfiguring effect of surface glare. The flooded scenes date from journeys on the Connecticut River in the 1970s in a small inflatable boat with an electric motor. They bear a sense of quietude, slow time, water moving en masse, and low horizons as in 17th century Dutch marine painting. The smaller panels in the show (cats. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) were worked over with a 600 wet/dry grit sander, then overlaid with transparent colours and an oil film. The results have the warmth and depth of veined alabaster, with smooth surfaces that bear traces of the activity of the sanders. The colours collide such that there is no evident ground in these works – like the skies and waters depicted, their painted surfaces seem endlessly deep. Such light abstractions represent ubiquitous or universal experiences of nature. Unlike the more didactic large historical works, these become miniature stages for people’s own stories. They are templates, evidence that we have a shared experience of nature. Finally, the three rocket pictures in the exhibition (cats. 11, 12, 13), in high and narrow portrait format, represent Hannock’s interests in the English tradition of eruptive images of natural splendor in paintings of Mt. Vesuvius by Wright of Derby, and the poetic distillations and form, atmosphere, light, dark, and explosions in Whistler’s Thameside rockets (fig. 8). Unlike Whistler’s famous nocturnal scene of the glare of fireworks, Hannock’s bursts are arcing their way skyward, seconds before blossoming into shimmers of light.
fig. 8. James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket, 1875, Oil on panel, 23 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches, Detroit Institute of Arts, USA / Gift of Dexter M. Ferry Jr. / The Bridgeman Art Library.
art as history painting and come to bear the ability to present fundamental states of mind. Since the mid-nineteenth century, however, the psychological in landscape has been associated with expressionism or abstraction, and in post-war art its most innovative practitioners have not worked in paint: Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Gordon Matta-Clark, Walter De Maria, Richard Long, or Andy Goldsworthy. The appearance of fidelity has come to be linked to kitsch, in a perceived motiveless verisimilitude (as in derogatory assessments of Andrew Wyeth or David Hockney), or simply effects of light and mood. Hannock’s work strives to demolish these associations. Its complexity lies in its smooth, hard, placidly liquid yet visually yielding surfaces, its depth of tone, layering of materials, tension between inscription and description, and seriality. In terms of light, the pictures come as close as an artist ever has to painting with light-emitting diodes. Their quality of radiance is remarkable, but measured in a manner appropriate to the age of LEDs (figs. 10, 11), unlike the blinding radiance achieved with oils alone and reflective varnish in works such as Turner’s Regulus (fig. 7). In his recent work, Stephen Hannock is producing pictures that, more than ever in his career, demonstrate a mastery of complexities of broad composition, subtleties and intricacies of diaphanous light, and narrative built through multi-layered image and text. His remarkable paintings not only collapse space and time, but then rebuild the two them into something new, on the foundation of the seemingly recognizable, but turning the blank slate of an apparently familiar view into something vividly original, deeply historical, ultimately personal.
For seventeenth century artists such as Nicholas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, landscape was the fit setting for history, the evolving category of paysage historique in the French Academy. It was not a venue for the personal. Not until J.M.W. Turner and John Constable in English romanticism did pure, depopulated, landscapes achieve both acceptance into the higher ranks of 7
The artistâ€™s studio in North Adams, Massachusetts. Photo Maeve Oâ€™Regan.
L I ST O F WO R KS
1. NORTHERN CITY RENAISSANCE, MAUVE DAWN (MASS MOCA #161)
6. FLOODED RIVER, WHITE LIGHT (MASS MOCA #172)
9 6 x 144 Polished mixed media on canvas 2012 - 2014
9 3/4 x 18 Framed 15 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 1 Polished oil on panel 2014
2. GREAT FALLS AT DAWN FOR XU BING (MASS MOCA #180)
7 2 x 144 Polished mixed media on canvas 2013 3. OXBOW II, FOR FRANK MOORE AND DAN HODERMARSKY (MASS MOCA #207)
3 6 x 54 Framed 43 1/2 x 61 1/2 x 2 3/8 Polished mixed media on canvas 2014 4. WAITING FOR OPHELIA (MASS MOCA #205)
2 0 x 30 Framed 27 x 37 x 3 Polished oil on canvas 2014 5. FLOODED RIVER: VELVET LIGHT (MASS MOCA #204)
4 0 x 72 Polished oil on canvas 2014
7. GREEN DAWN WITH ESCAPING LIGHT (MASS MOCA #199)
1 2 1/8 x 18 3/4 Framed 19 1/8 x 24 5/8 x 1 5/8 Polished oil on panel 2014 8. GREEN DAWN WITH WARM LIGHT (MASS MOCA #200)
1 1 3/4 x 18 5/8 Framed 18 5/8 x 24 1/2 x 1 5/8 Polished oil on panel 2014 9. MAUVE FOG WITH CLEARING STORM (MASS MOCA #201)
1 1 7/8 x 17 7/8 Framed 17 5/8 x 23 5/8 x 1 7/8 Polished oil on panel 2014
11. INCENDIARY NOCTURE: GOLDEN CLUSTER, ROSE LIGHT (MASS MOCA #197)
3 0 x 20 Framed 35 1/4 x 25 1/4 x 2 Polished oil on canvas 2014 12. INCENDIARY NOCTURE: SOLO LAUNCH, GREEN LIGHT (MASS MOCA #198)
3 0 x 20 Framed 35 1/4 x 25 1/4 x 2 Polished oil on canvas 2014 13. STORM LAUNCH THROUGH CLOUD COLUMN (MASS MOCA #186)
1 4 x 10 1/2 Framed 19 3/4 x 16 1/2 x 2 1/2 Polished oil on canvas 2013 All dimensions are in inches
10. MAUVE FOG WITH ROSE VEIL (MASS MOCA #202)
11 7/8 x 18 Framed 17 1/2 x 23 5/8 x 1 1/8 Polished oil on panel 2014
1. NORTHERN CITY RENAISSANCE, MAUVE DAWN (MASS MOCA #161) 96 x 144 in., polished mixed media on canvas, 2012 - 2014
This winged view above Newcastle and Gateshead in northeastern England is an exploration of the rich history of the region. It is Hannock’s second painted version of this composition and first to be seen in London.4 He sketched out the initial composition on his studio wall in North Adams, Massachusetts, adding notations and tacking relevant material to the surface as part of his deep research into the site. This wall is constantly changing, forming a living palimpsest of the artist’s intellectual and artistic process (fig. 1). fig. 9. Detail, lower centre.
fig. 10. Detail, upper left.
fig. 11. Detail, upper centre.
fig. 12. Detail, far right centre.
The painting is a composite aerial vista looking east towards the rising sun. Newcastle is on the left, along the snaking River Tyne, with Gateshead on the right, and South Shields and the North Sea coast in the deep distance. Text and materials in the picture blend the area’s more recent history, and its emergence as a vibrant arts centre, with its past, that of the Roman Empire and the pre- and post-industrial eras, as in the details, painted, drawn, and pasted, of the various bridges that have crossed the river in the central foreground (fig. 9). Hannock’s written text and numerous brilliant lights sparkle in the upper third of the landscape: these two elements appear to radiate out from the central horizon point, like emanating ripples from a hurled stone that has broken a water’s surface. This circling is reflected in the upward curving bowl of clouds in the high reaches of the sky. The phosphorescent willo’-the-wisp points of light are identified as individual coal mines and are accompanied by texts regarding mining accidents and the number of dead – like the grim recitation of battles and the names of the deceased on war memorials (fig. 10). The hardwon successes of the region’s past, in the mines and the towering fountain-like forms of light along the Tyne that represent defunct shipyards and cranes that are now historical monuments (fig. 11), are backdrop to the region’s hopeful present in the foreground and its spectacular civic monuments. Hannock has worked on this painting for the past three years, and it forms both a history of the region, and of the artist’s longer interaction with the overall project. For example, at the far left is an image of St. James’ Park, above which Hannock has written ‘where King Kev lives!’ – a reference to Kevin Keegan’s brief return to managing Newcastle United in 2008, at the time when Hannock conceived the initial composition and its content. At far right is an image of Canary Wharf in London, and handwriting
documenting the knighthood of its developer, Hannock’s friend Sir George Iacobescu. The artist heard about this event on the BBC World Service in his studio in February 2012, and there and then commemorated it on the picture’s surface, irrespective of Iacobescu’s lack of a connection to Tyneside. One day later, Hannock pasted an image of Prince Charles knighting Iacobescu onto the surface (fig. 12). Thus, unlike earlier sketched and finished iterations of this motif, this version has become a documentation of a broader cultural and urban recovery across England, and beyond the limits of Newcastle and environs. Hence there are references to artists Oliver Kilbourn, one of the local Ashington ‘Pitmen Painters’, and the musician Sting’s life in the region and related current Last Ship theatrical project, as well as Antony Gormley, and Frank Auerbach (‘the Master of the Observation of Urban Reconstruction’ in Hannock’s scribbled phrase). Suggestive links between Newcastle and Hannock’s adopted town of North Adams, Massachusetts – two post-industrial regions enjoying cultural renaissances – are also embedded into the surface. The spreading skein of lights and dynamic lines emanating from the central top section of the picture give it the appearance of a celestial map, seen in plunging and slanted perspective. The named glows of mines and shipyards form a kind of orrery of human environments and markers of historical time, while the vortical embrace of the picture is remarkable – it is Baroque in its physical draw on the viewer. In the spirit of Turner’s image of coal transporters working on the Tyne (fig. 6), this is a universal celebration of the laboured landscape, spanning England and across the Atlantic. Northern City Renaissance employs the visual motif of fleeting and modulating light to parallel the idea of the mines and shipyards as similarly brief moments of brilliance in the vast history of a region, and its contemporary rebirth.
2. GREAT FALLS AT DAWN FOR XU BING (MASS MOCA #180) 72 x 144 in., polished mixed media on canvas, 2013
fig. 13. Xu Bing, Phoenix Project, 2007-2010, Debris and materials from construction sites, approximately 26 x 95 ft and 26 x 100ft, Collection of Barry Lam, Installation at Mass MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, 2013, Photo Jason Rosenfeld.
fig. 14. Detail, lower left edge.
fig. 15. Detail, centre.
This dramatic vista of Niagara Falls is an uncommon one in art and popular culture. The position is from the United States side, standing downriver to the north past Goat Island and heading towards Rainbow Bridge, while looking back south-southwest across the falls. In the foreground left is the American Falls, and in the centre the narrower Bridal Veil Falls. In the right distance is the more familiar Horseshoe Falls, the section that prevails in the popular imagination. Hannock initially sketched the scene from a boat below the falls using a waterproofed disposable palette that he flipped over and primed with gesso and black acrylic, an act of experiential research reminiscent of J.M.W. Turner’s claim to have been tied to the deck of a ship in a storm to translate the sublime power of rough weather in his marine scenes. The results, in both artists’ works, are pictures that envelop viewers. Unlike the aerial perspectives of Frederic Edwin Church’s view of Niagara (fig. 5), and Hannock’s Northern City Renaissance (cat. 1) and Oxbow II (cat. 3), here the point of view is from ground level and right up against the underside of the falls. The picture is also less covered with Hannock’s calligraphy, as his written text sits more comfortably on imagery of solid earth than rushing water. The early sun casts raking light over the upper reaches of the distant Horseshoe Falls, and its pink rays delicately illuminate the burst of chartreuse mist rising in the atmospheric perspective of the background. The falling water is rendered as startlingly palpable, through the scrim and gauze of layers of paint, and under the matt acrylic varnish. New York- born painter Frank Moore (1953-2002), nephew to Hannock’s early teacher Hodermarsky, factors in the title of the Oxbow work in this exhibition (cat. 3), and the surface of this picture. Moore was an artist whose penchant for the autobiographical Hannock shares.5 He is imaged at the very top of the falls, etched against the dark trees. Moore had family connections to nearby Buffalo, New York. He died from AIDS in 2002, after having created the ribbon that serves as the global symbol of awareness of the AIDS crisis. This second iteration of the picture is dedicated to the Chinese artist Xu Bing (born 1955), whose astonishing and massive Phoenix Project filled Mass MoCA’s cavernous Building #5 exhibition hall in the summer of 2013 (fig. 13).6 Hannock included a detail of Xu’s project as installed at
Shanghai’s Exposition 10 in 2010 on the left side of the image (fig. 14). To the right is a smaller photo of Mass MoCA director Joe Thompson lecturing on the installation at the museum in 2013 which Hannock shot, then raced back to his studio, printed, and pasted on only minutes later. The canvas reads, ‘The Phoenix Project and Niagara Falls could be the most ethereal works of Industrial Art in North America as we speak’. This is a reference to the fact that the great falls in the painting were at one time actually controlled by mechanisms put in place by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1969, when the falls were entirely shut off and the water diverted in an effort to control erosion and restore its form. Xu Bing’s massive phoenixes are composed of waste from construction sites in China, repurposed into shimmering birds of legend, and comment on the rapid growth of urban China, and its consequent environmental impact. Xu Bing is but one of a number of artists from the past and the present that Hannock has drawn into this picture, in text and reproduction. For example, the photographer Cindy Sherman, who attended nearby Buffalo State College, is featured as she and Hannock met while designing sets for the Stephen Petronio Dance Company. In the centre (fig. 15) are twinned small images of Marilyn Monroe in a poster for Henry Hathaway’s film Niagara (1953), and Sherman’s self-portrait Untitled (Marilyn) from 1982 in which the artist loosely assumed the actress’s look, torqued pose, and open-mouthed, breathy eroticism. There are similar images of Monroe film stills paired with a Mark Bradford photograph also inspired by the movie, and, to the right, Andy Warhol’s famed Marilyn Diptych of 1962 from the Tate, based on a head shot from the film.7 Other pasted elements reference works by Frederic Edwin Church (fig. 5), William Morris Hunt, Valerie Hegarty, April Gornik, Laurie Simmons, and Maya Lin. And Great Falls also references and takes up the technique of film, as I have discussed elsewhere.8 In this way Hannock blends, on the fly, data, local lore, and his experience in a contemporary and personal paysage historique nouveau, a supplementation of the subjects of traditional historical landscape paintings (the Bible, classical history, battle scenes), with his own life and its many tendrils of connectivity.
3. OXBOW II, FOR FRANK MOORE AND DAN HODERMARSKY (MASS MOCA #207) 36 x 54 in., framed 43 1/2 x 61 1/2 x 2 3/8 in., polished mixed media on canvas, 2014
fig. 16. Thomas Cole, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow, 1836, Oil on canvas, 51 1/2 x 76 inches, © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
fig. 17. The view of the Oxbow from Skinner Park on Mount Holyoke, 2009. Photo Jason Rosenfeld.
Hannock’s signature composition, and long-time leitmotif, like Claude Monet’s Nympheas, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, Jasper Johns’s Targets, or Damien Hirst’s spots, is the ‘Oxbow’, a distinctive and meandering extension of the Connecticut River near Northampton, Massachusetts.9 For centuries it formed a bulging omega-shape, as in the Lancashire-born Thomas Cole’s painting of 1836, the great early work of a distinctively American landscape art (fig. 16). Previously perfect in its u-shaped form, by 1840 the Oxbow had flooded and lost its integrity. Hannock’s view is from Skinner Park, atop Mount Holyoke, looking westsouthwest and over the Connecticut River valley. That formerly clear loop form is now hardly recognizable, both naturally flooded and humanly disembowelled by Route 5 and Interstate 91 (fig. 17), and now occupied to the north by a marina. Hannock’s conception shows the plain symbolically flooded, and his recent paintings of it epitomize the complete and successful unity of paint, text, and media in his new work. Thomas Cole is seen as the progenitor of the American Hudson River School of artists, including Frederic Edwin Church (fig. 5) and Albert Bierstadt, who expanded both the subject matter and scale of American landscape painting, and who introduced naturalism and politics into the genre. His work, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm – The Oxbow, is bifurcated into the late-romantic sublime marked by stormy weather and devastated trees on the left, and the beautiful, noted in open skies and sun splashed orderly fields on the right. It referenced aesthetic traditions nearly exhausted in mid-nineteenth-century Europe. But its confluence of both the sublime and the beautiful in a grand panoramic canvas was as novel as its themes: the development of the American wilderness under God’s aegis and the continued mediation between old and new worlds. As ever, Hannock’s is an imaginary construction, seductively coloured. He transformed the topography through the inclusion of mountains, adding bridges, flooding, and eliminating some signs of modern development. He initially worked from some generalized drawings made on the side of Mount Holyoke in the 1980s, but now operates from memory, never painting in front of the motif. The picture appears immaculate from a distance, seamless in its transitions from section to section, but
up close the text becomes more visible, the pasted materials smaller, more subtle, and more finely integrated with landscape features than in previous versions. They alternately rise and fall from view, while scuff marks from the various sanders he uses to modulate the surface are also visible, skidding across the surface. The assumed finish of the macroscopic view belies the spontaneity evident in worthwhile microscopic scrutiny. Note: the exhibited painting, cat. 3, is the second version of a work now in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, and illustrated opposite: The Oxbow, Flooded, for Frank Moore and Dan Hodermarsky (Mass MoCA #196), 48 x 72 in., polished mixed media on canvas, 2013.
4. WAITING FOR OPHELIA (MASS MOCA #205) 20 x 30 in., framed 27 x 37 x 3 in., polished oil on canvas, 2014
fig. 18. John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-1852, Oil on canvas, 762 x 1118 mm, © Tate, London, 2014.
Inspired by a visit to the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (the second venue of the show that was at Tate Britain in September 2012 to January 2013), Hannock began to conceive of some works related to the historical pictures by those radical mid-nineteenth century British artists. He composed this painting as a kind of stage set for the scene to come in John Everett Millais’s iconic painting, Ophelia (fig. 18).10 It is an imagined vista of the picture’s Surrey mise en scène, where Millais painted it, with its willow tree and reeds to the left, but one that is pulled back and expanded, so that Millais’s intense thicket of vegetation is given more breadth. The colour and tone is entirely at a remove from Millais’s work, as the early light of morning emanates from the background, and breaks up the forms of the scrim of trees above. It is a kind of celebration of the natural settings of Pre-Raphaelite pictures, in the famed works of Millais and William Holman Hunt, but depopulated, unlike the ambitious historical works backed by nature pursued by those revolutionary young artists in the early 1850s. Waiting for Ophelia joins the two main streams of landscape painting in the history of British art. On the one hand, there is the grandiose yet suggestive approach, emanating from the British school of 18th century romantic watercolourists, like Thomas Girtin and oil painters like Joseph Wright of Derby, and expanded on all levels by Turner and in all mediums. This then continues suggestively in the work of Cecil Gordon Lawson, George Mason, and James McNeill Whistler (fig. 8) in late-nineteenth century works that follow on Turner’s abstract leanings. On the other hand, there is a more empirical school in British art, traced back to the landscapes of Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, and then most vividly realized in the Pre-Raphaelites and the writings of John Ruskin, the late Scottish landscapes of Millais, and lately espoused in the seemingly opposite works of Martin Gale (born 1949), who works in Ireland, and David Hockney (born 1937), whose East Yorkshire landscapes, celebrated at his Royal Academy exhibition in 2012, ‘confirm Mr. Hockney’s theory that representational painting can tell you more about reality and perception than either photography or the human eye, which is one reason it can still thrill’ in the words of one critic.11 Hockney, in a day-glo palette, and in multiple projection
films, is trying to convey as much information as possible – it is Pre-Raphaelitism on a massive scale.12 But Hannock’s pictures seek mood and tone, suggestiveness and truth. As in Waiting for Ophelia, they are tableaux based initially on reality or, in this case, the painted simulacra of reality, but generalized and occluded. Unlike the legions of artists since 1852 from all over the world who have called upon Millais’s picture for inspiration, Hannock’s work is singular in showing the milieu and not the maiden. Hamlet’s doomed love may show up or she may not. As ever, moving water and fleeting light prevail.
5. F LOODED RIVER: VELVET LIGHT (MASS MOCA #204)
40 x 72 in. Polished oil on canvas, 2014 18
6. F LOODED RIVER, WHITE LIGHT (MASS MOCA #172)
9 3/4 x 18 in., framed 15 1/2 x 23 1/2 x 1 in. Polished oil on panel, 2014 19
7. G REEN DAWN WITH ESCAPING LIGHT (MASS MOCA #199)
1 2 1/8 x 18 3/4 in., framed 19 1/8 x 24 5/8 x 1 5/8 in. Polished oil on panel, 2014
8. GREEN DAWN WITH WARM LIGHT (MASS MOCA #200)
1 1 3/4 x 18 5/8 in., framed 18 5/8 x 24 1/2 x 1 5/8 in. Polished oil on panel, 2014 21
9. MAUVE FOG WITH CLEARING STORM (MASS MOCA #201)
1 1 7/8 x 17 7/8 in., framed 17 5/8 x 23 5/8 x 1 7/8 in. Polished oil on panel, 2014 22
10. MAUVE FOG WITH ROSE VEIL (MASS MOCA #202)
1 1 7/8 x 18 in., framed 17 1/2 x 23 5/8 x 1 1/8 in. Polished oil on panel, 2014 23
11. INCENDIARY NOCTURE: GOLDEN CLUSTER, ROSE LIGHT (MASS MOCA #197)
3 0 x 20 in., framed 35 1/4 x 25 1/4 x 2 in. Polished oil on canvas, 2014 24
12. INCENDIARY NOCTURE: SOLO LAUNCH, GREEN LIGHT (MASS MOCA #198)
30 x 20 in., framed 35 1/4 x 25 1/4 x 2 in. Polished oil on canvas, 2014 25
13. STORM LAUNCH THROUGH CLOUD COLUMN (MASS MOCA #186)
1 4 x 10 1/2 in., framed 19 3/4 x 16 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. Polished oil on canvas, 2013
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Rosenfeld, Ph.D., is Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, New York. He was co-curator of the exhibition ‘John Everett Millais’ (2007-08: Tate Britain, London; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Fukuoka, and Bunkamura Museum, Tokyo, Japan). He is also co-curator of the exhibition ‘PreRaphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde’ (2012-14: Tate Britain, London; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, and the Mori Art Gallery, Tokyo).
F O OT N OT E S The author would like to thank Stephen Hannock for over eighteen years of valued friendship, David Lachman for facilitating everything, Laurie Greenall and Kayleigh Pullinger at Shine for their expert work on the catalogue, Geoffrey Parton at Marlborough Fine Art and Pierre and Max Levai at Marlborough New York for their support, and Steven Petegorsky for his exceptional photography of the works.
‘Frank Moore’s Ecology of Loss’, Art in America (May 2003), 124-31, and Klaus Kertess et al., Toxic Beauty: The Art of Frank Moore (New York: Grey Art Gallery, New York University, 2012). http://www.massmoca.org/event_details.php?id=771
Portions of this essay were adapted from Jason Rosenfeld, ‘Stephen Hannock: New England/New York’, in Stephen Hannock (New York and Manchester: Hudson Hills Press, 2009), 35-47.
For Hannock’s technique of ten years ago see Jason Rosenfeld, ‘Imaginary Realism, Meaningful Contradictions’, in Stephen Hannock (New York and Los Angeles: McKenzie Fine Art Inc. and Michael Kohn Gallery, 2002), 5-9.
Garrett White, ‘Beneath the Light: Digital Imaging in the Art of Stephen Hannock’, in Stephen Hannock (2009), 196-203.
The first is titled Northern City Renaissance (Newcastle, England, Mass MoCA #53) and is from 2008. See White, ‘Beneath the Light: Digital Imaging in the Art of Stephen Hannock’, and Stephen Hannock, ‘Artist’s Notes’, in Stephen Hannock (New York and Manchester: Hudson Hills Press, 2009), 207-219. The picture has recently been on loan to the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne.
The first version of this motif is titled Moving Water for Frank Moore; Niagara Falls (Mass MoCA #170) (2004-2012). See also Faye Hirsch,
Portions of this essay were adapted from Jason Rosenfeld, ‘Stephen Hannock: Painted Vistavisions’ in Stephen Hannock: Recent Paintings: Vistas with Text (New York: Marlborough Gallery, 2012), 17-23. See Robert Atkins, After Church, After Cole: Stephen Hannock's Oxbow, ex. cat. (San Diego, California: Timken Museum of Art, 1995) and Martha Hoppin, ‘Variations on a Theme: The Oxbow’, in Stephen Hannock (2009), 14-32. See Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld, and Alison Smith, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (London: Tate Publishing, 2012).
Roberta Smith, ‘Leaving Home but Always Going Forward’, The New York Times, 23 December 2013, http://www.nytimes. com/2013/12/24/arts/design/recent-david-hockney-work-at-the-deyoung-in-san-francisco.html
See Tim Barringer, ‘Seeing with Memory: Hockney and the Masters’ in Marco Livingstone, et al., David Hockney: A Bigger Picture (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2012), 42-55.
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Design: Shine Design, London Print: Impress Print Services Ltd. Photography: Stephen Petegorsky ISBN 978-1-909707-04-7 Catalogue no. 632 ÂŠ 2014 Marlborough