Saturday, October 13, 2018

Charlie's Go Round

Charlie's Go Round
2018, oil on linen, 16" x 12"

The initial idea for this painting came to me during a conversation about art with an old friend. We had just finished dinner at a Mexican restaurant when he asked me what criteria was used by critics and curators to determine an artist's importance. He continued to say that in his opinion the contemporary art he saw - even in highly respected venues -  varied greatly in quality, ranging from sublime to superficial. He didn't understand why it was that way. My insight was expected.

Though I've read more than my share of art criticism and theory, the question can certainly be baffling. In the course of art history, there have been many movements, many responses to the human experience, that have created an expanding complexity of thought about the nature of art. When I consider works of the Renaissance, there does appear to be more consistent discretion by the patrons toward the abilities and reputations of artists. However, the definition of art was much more narrow then, with rules limiting what an artist could do.

Other than offering those obvious thoughts, I really had no easy answer for my friend. He was looking as glum as a portrait of Emiliano Zapata nearby on the wall. Fortunately, the flan arrived. 

The painting within this painting came out of that discussion - I was doodling some sort of arcane explanation on a paper napkin - though its original concept in my mind was pink and black:

There are three drawings related to this painting, all similar except in size; here's the second one:

drawing #2
2018, pencil on graph paper with pastel tone on reverse, 12" x 10"

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kathleen's Scar

Kathleen's Scar
2018, oil on linen, 11" x 8"

I've carried this composition in my head since 1975 ... an image of a lovely woman I once knew who had heart surgery, ever cheerful despite the experience. I have no idea what became of her.

The palette is purposely subdued, her hair and scar the brightest tones, complemented by her blue eyes and the green horizontal stripe on her blouse. The colors suit the narrative, but the palette is also a color study for a larger painting I'm about to begin of two sisters, artists, in their studio.

A drawing for this composition floated around the studio for years - it's now lost - and then four or five years ago I drew it again on an 8" x 6" canvas where it lingered until early this month when I made a larger drawing that was 11" x 8".

My intention was simply to realize an image and composition that was based on a memory. After the painting was finished, standing back and looking at it, I suddenly thought about the many Renaissance paintings of saints, imagined portraits, who are identified by the inclusion of an iconographic symbol: Saint Catherine with a spiked wheel, Saint Ambrose with a beehive, Saint Lucy with her eyes on a plate or on a stalk. The strong influence of the early Italian painters upon my work amuses me at times like this ... how it subconsciously affects me. 

Saint Lucy
Francesco del Cossa (ca. 1430 - ca. 14770
ca. 1473/1474,  30" x 22" tempera on panel
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Here are the two drawings for Kathleen's Scar:

drawing #2
2018, pencil on graph paper with pastel tone on reverse, 11" x 8"

drawing #1
pencil and ink on primed canvas, 7 1/2" x 6"

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Ginevra de' Benci

In The Truth about Lola, the book that accompanied my 2008-09 retrospective, Bartholomew Bland, curator of the exhibition, wrote the following about this painting:

Eliza with Saigon Martini
2000, oil on linen, 6 1/4" x 5"
Private collection, New York

Eliza with Saigon Martini is a classic pose of the world–weary woman [ ... ]. With her décolletage and slightly sullen demeanor, Eliza perhaps most closely resembles the figure in Leonardo da Vinci's Ginevra de Benci, with a cocktail and a cigarette.

I was extremely pleased by the reference because the Leonardo is one of my favorite paintings in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and I always make an effort to see it whenever I'm there.

Ginevra de' Benci
Leonardo da Vinci
1474/1478, oil on panel , 15" x 15"
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The painting was acquired by the National Gallery in  February 1967 for around 5 million dollars (or ca. 38 million in today's dollars). I believe that was a record price at the time for the purchase of any painting, though it seems quite a bargain by today's standards. Sold to the museum by the House of Liechtenstein, the painting traveled across the Atlantic in a specially-modified suitcase nestled in its own first-class seat on a Swissair flight.

I remember standing in a considerable crowd to see it for the first time. When I finally had a few moments to look closely I was amazed by the subtlety of the tones, the exquisiteness of the details, the beauty of the ringlets of hair and the pattern of the juniper behind her. 

The psychological aspect of the Leonardo's painting was also intriguing. Ginevra  was 18 or 20 at the time the portrait was made and a few years before had married Luigi Niccolini, a respected Florentine from a moderately wealthy family. Her melancholy in the portrait has been attributed to different reasons, depending on the source. One, that her health was poor. Another - more romantic - was that she was pining for her lover, Bernardo Bembo, the Venetian ambassador to Florence who had been recalled home.

Years later in graduate school, I wrote a paper about the painting for a required art history course. I compared it to a painting by Lorenzo di Credi (1456/59-1536) in the Metropolitan Museum in New York - Portrait of a Young Woman - who is similarly backed by juniper and a receding landscape. The woman's grief - a recent widow - is represented by the iconography of the ring and the black dress. The point of my paper was that Leonardo's portrait presented the sitter's emotional state without the use of symbolic clues. The paper is long lost, but it was rather grandly titled Ginevra de' Benci: The First Psychological Portrait. My professor liked it, though I'm far from expert enough to know if my conclusion was actually true.

Portrait of a Young Woman
Lorenzo di Credi
1490/1500 oil on panel , 23" x 16"
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I painted Eliza again nine years later, a little older and with a more sophisticated drink:

Woman Smoking: Eliza
2009, oil on line,  7 1/2" x 6"
Private collection, Maine

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Poetry by Michael H. Hanson

Michael H. Hanson, a writer and poet who has published four collections of poetry and over ninety short stories, also creates poems inspired by paintings that he's seen on Facebook. Two of my paintings - Jessie's Diner and Cell Phones - were the genesis of poems this summer. Reprinted below with permission.


Jessie's Diner
35" x 65", oil on linen, 2017
Courtesy of Adelson Galleries

This Treasure Chest

Another day at the diner,
the weather couldn’t be finer,
sizzling bacon perfumes the air,
each waitress a fun diviner
dispensing advice with a flair,
serving both kid and old-timer.

So pure the open window breeze
allows sweet grill smoke to allay
omelets piled high with cheddar cheese,
bottomless mugs in this café
putting most everyone at ease
as groggy thoughts just drift away.

Breakfast hash for the hungry man
and melon slices for the girls
all squeezed into a tight floor plan,
humanity’s palatine pearls
sharing these stools with kind élan
as broken egg yolk slowly swirls.

The crunch of toast, fresh home fries roast
in this room blest, this treasure chest
and common bistro on the coast
perfect, precious, and grandiose.

22 July 2018
Michael H. Hanson ©2018


Cell Phones

15" x 15", oil on linen, 2012

Private collection, Massachusetts

Allegorical Oracle

We’re all plugged in, synced to the source,
bound by some discourteous force,
distracted from another course
of coffee, tea, and sane discourse.

An unconnected appendage
raking the highest percentage
of those who cannot save a dime
and fear missing the assemblage.

An unseen cybernetic ghost,
a steel leech with us as host,
devouring both our voice and touch,
a whipping post where we can boast.

We’re all together yet alone,
cold and phantasmagorical,
trusting the seer that is our phone,
allegorical oracle.

13 July 2018
Michael H. Hanson ©2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sea Isle City

This painting, made in my senior year at R.I.S.D., was one of eight shown in my first gallery exhibition a few months later in Boston:

Sea Isle City
7" x 9", oil on wood panel, 1969
Private collection, Massachusetts

The narrative is more autobiographical than usual, based on a childhood memory - a visit to Sea Isle City, New Jersey in the early 1950s, me sitting on a stoop wearing a straw cowboy hat, attended by a young baby-sitter whose bathing suit was much more modest in real life. A while back I looked at street views of the town on Google Maps and these cottages on stilts are long gone, but I remember them clearly. There's a photo in the family album too:

July 1952
Sea Isle City, New Jersey

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Woman Burning a Photo

Woman Burning a Photo
12 1/2" x 10", oil on linen, 2018

I've long held the belief that the viewer should be free to make their own interpretation about the meaning of the narratives in my work. Not wanting to influence the viewer's thinking, I rarely say much about what a painting may mean to me; my titles are usually minimal for the same reason. That said, I enjoy hearing people's interpretations, and the ideas about the same painting can sometimes be wildly different.

In my ongoing solo exhibition in Boston, Adam Adelson, Director of Adelson Galleries Boston, wrote short wall texts for each painting exhibited. Here's what he wrote about this painting:
"An image of a man begins to ignite in the hands of a woman who stands over a table – set with a candle and dish with water.  The ritual of burning this image appears premeditated, as she’s ready to extinguish the flame as soon as it destroys the image.  She and her dog watch the flame start to engulf an image of the older, unassuming gentleman.  We are not sure what her relationship is to this man, but it’s apparent that he had harmed her in some way.  Clearly, the man is not as innocent as he seems in the photograph.  We have all experienced ending an unhealthy relationship, and each person has their own process of letting go so that they can move on with their life.  The woman’s private ceremony unburdens her without harming anyone." 
Other interpretations are also welcome.

This composition took four drawings to fully develop:

Woman Burning a Photo, drawing #1
10" x 11", pencil on paper, 2018

Initially, the woman was using a match to burn the photo. A painting of a dog - perhaps looking more like an anteater than a dog - was behind her on the wall.

In the next drawing, the dog went from an image on the wall to becoming the woman's companion by her side, the hand-held match became a candle, and a bowl of water was included to eventually extinguish the fire. I also added the androgynous figure, a witness.

Woman Burning a Photo, drawing #2
9" x 9", pencil on paper, 2018

The second person was removed in the third drawing; he/she seemed to dilute the narrative and I felt the composition was stronger with just the single figure. The faithful dog remained.

Woman Burning a Photo, drawing #3
10" x 8", pencil on graph paper, 2018

The final drawing was an enlargement of #3:

Woman Burning a Photo, drawing #4
12 1/2" x 10", pencil on graph paper with green oxide pastel tone on reverse, 2018


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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Haley Smoking

New painting:
Haley Smoking
7 1/2" x 6", oil on linen, 2018


Upcoming solo exhibition in Boston:

Contemplating Figures
Andrew Stevovich

May 4th through June 24th, 2018

opening reception
Friday, May 4th, 6 – 8 pm

Adelson Galleries Boston
520 Harrison Avenue
Boston, MA 02118

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Nadine with a Cigarette

A new painting of Nadine ...around the twelfth time she's made an appearance in my work since 1974; usually she's alone, though in four paintings she's with other figures. Since I'm counting, this is also the ninth painting I've done of a single individual smoking.

Nadine with a Cigarette
9 1/2" x 7", oil on linen, 2018

Three earlier paintings of Nadine:

Nadine with Espresso
24" x 17", oil on linen, 1998
Private Collection, New York

Nadine's New Dress
6" x 4", oil on linen, 2009

Nadine with Two Demons
1/2" x 4 1/2", oil on linen, 1998
Private Collection, England

And here's one time when - by way of three posters on a wall - she was transformed into a chanteuse:

The French Singer
28" x 36", oil on linen, 1998
Private Collection, New York

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Eddie's Brother

Eddie's Brother
8" x 6", oil on linen, 2018

This composition was developed with just two drawings. The first one was made over twenty years ago and added to my collection of drawings - ideas for future paintings - where it would resurface from time to time. 

Eddie's Brother (drawing. #1)
5" x 3 1/4", pencil on graph paper, 1996

For whatever reason, it caught my eye three weeks ago and I felt it was time to realize it in paint. I made a second and larger drawing, and used it to transfer the image to the linen:

Eddie's Brother (drawing #2)
8" x 6", pencil on paper with burnt sienna pastel tone on reverse, 2018

A different man carrying a similar bundle appeared in a 1984 painting:

8" x 13", oil on linen, 1984
Private Collection, Massachusetts

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Two Women with a Monkey

The second of my monkey paintings is finished:

Two Woman with a Monkey
18" x 20", oil on linen, 2017-2018

There are four significant changes between the painting and the final drawing: the monkey's position, the structure of the porch, the right arm of the blonde woman, and the addition of two more oranges.

Two Women with a Monkey (drawing #2, final)
18" x 20", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

The first orange - the one being offered to the monkey - provided a bright warm note in a composition that I planned to fill with cool greens and blues as well as greys and blacks. However, as the painting progressed, I had the idea to add two more oranges which proved fortuitous, creating a subtle circular movement with more energy and interest.

detail, ca. 13" x 8"

There are two more drawings related to this painting: the initial sketch and a monkey study for the new position on the table.

Two Women with a Monkey (drawing #1)
6 1/2" x 7 3/4", pencil on graph paper, 2017

Two Women with a Monkey (monkey study)
8 1/2" x 12 1/2", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

This concludes my monkey paintings for now, though I have a couple other drawings with potential, including one with a lot of monkeys. Will see. 

Lots of Monkeys
7" x 8", pencil on graph paper, 2017 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Playing with Mr. Epps

Playing with Mr. Epps
10" x 10", oil on linen, 20177

A recurring narrative in my work involves one of two cats: Mookie, a grey tabby, and Mr. Epps, a black cat. Mookie belonged to my son for eighteen years; Mr. Epps to someone I knew in my 20s who had named him after Preston Epps, the bongo player. 

In the drawings for this composition, I was thinking to use Mookie, but when I painted the woman's dark dress I thought the counterpoint of a black note worked better then a grey note.

The composition is based on a triangle - a classical solution that helps creates weight and solidity - and I went with a background of light muted warm tones to further enhance its strength. The ball is the only bright color, and is echoed by the dark red of the chair upholstery and the light red of the horizontal line dividing the upper and  lower sections of the wall.

Playing with Mr. Epps (drawing #3, final)
10" x 10", pencil on paper with pastel tone on reverse, 2017

Besides changing the cat from Mookie to Mr. Epps, the only other significant change from the final drawing to the painting was eliminating the treat on the table top and giving the woman a red ball to hold ... and having both paws on the table instead of one.

Playing with Mr. Epps (drawing #2)
7 1/2" x 7 1/2", pencil on graph paper, 2017
Playing with Mr. Epps (drawing #1)
6 1/4" x 6", pencil on graph paper, 2017

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Little One

New painting:

Little One
6 3/4" x 4 1/2", oil on linen, 2017

The image continues my ongoing narrative of individuals with demons, devils, or imps, and in this case a blue goblin. I've often been asked about the meaning of these strange creatures that have appeared in my work with some regularity over the years, but - as with all my narratives - I like viewers to have their own interpretations of a painting.

This painting is a bit unusual in having no preliminary drawings. The composition was drawn directly on the linen.

Here's a painting from 1995 with two devils being served chicken nubs:

Woman with Two Devils
6" x 7 3/4", oil on linen, 1995
Private Collection, New York, NY

And one who doesn't need the presence of a human:

Demon with Drink
4" x 3 1/2", oil on linen, 2009

Two paintings in progress:

Two Women Feeding a Monkey, in progress
18" x 20", oil on linen
Playing with Mookie, in progress
10" x 10", oil on linen


"There is more power in telling little than in telling all."
- Mark Rothko

“The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meanings are unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.”
- Magritte

"Now, the idea is to get everything right -- it's not just color or form or space or line -- it's everything all at once."
- Richard Diebenkorn

“What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious,
the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.”
- Amedeo Modigliani