Wednesday, 18 February 2015

'City of Glass 29 - (Babylon)'

'City of Glass 29 - (Babylon)'   100x75cms

TUES   I've had a change of mind-  'Babylon' is the title of the painting.
MON    I have been looking for hours at this piece- I think it is resolved. Denise is not sure but Ollie says it's his favourite.
Any more additions/complications will detract from the strength of the bricks running through the image of Manhattan.  I've simplified the yellows and Central Park and put in the rivers of New York, adding a curious drawn, linear element to the painting. Now I have, like the novel*, a mix of the ancient and the present day. Manhattan sits, like Babylon, between two rivers, the bricks/canvases and image within reminiscent of the friezes of the Ishtar Gate. The shape of the canvas relates to the ziggurat-shape of the Tower of Babel, which is, of course, made of bricks. The only dilemma is the title: 'Babylon' or 'Tigris and Euphrates'.

The usual horrors when I took it out of the studio into natural light. The yellows are crude and the surface too knobbly and complicated. The bricks/canvases must be more prominent - I'll gouge out the paint in the cracks. Am liking how the Manhattan shape site in the shape of the piece, the pinks are doing something and colours and paint in the Lower East Side. It's not enough- back we go.

Day 2

I had to go to work today- so just a couple of hours in the studio. Colour is starting to happen and bricks/canvases more prominent. Manhattan image emerging. The larger bricks will be broken down into smaller bricks with the proportions of a New York city block. Manhattan will be covered with a brick pattern instead of blocks- made of bricks like the Tower of Babel. I think the scale is going to be 1 brick = 6 blocks, hence the new title.  The painting takes on the idea of the enormous scale of the new Babel, where every inhabitant of North America will have their own room...... Think again of the words: 1 brick is the size of 6 city blocks... My daughter Faye likes the colours.

Day 1


* 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

'The Fear & Thrill of the Chase'- Battersea Park Paintings

'In the Park'   165cms x 210cms

Having a look at these early, emotionally charged paintings again recently and seeing how they stand up over time, how strong they are, I feel now is the time to tell their story- especially because of the links/references to the Garden of Eden in my current 'City of Glass' series. Reflection: in each life there are many different lives - back then I was not yet fully formed as an artist or a person but this series - (painted between 1984-88) - gave a few more clues to who I was. There were many influences: the paintings of Edvard Munch, John Fowles's novel, 'The Magus' and music: Joni Mitchell's haunting 'Hejira' ' there is comfort in melancholy, no need to explain.....' and the title, 'The Fear & Thrill of the Chase' from 'Decades', the final track on 'Closer' by Joy Division.

' are the young men the weight on their shoulders.....'

I left Canterbury College of Art College in 1983, moving to London and sharing a flat in Battersea, near the park, with a close friend from college. The house next door was derelict and the top floor became my studio. It was Year Zero- time to start again- how much of what you make at college is truly yours? The first paintings- since destroyed- included the power station but it was the park that became the inspiration, providing the setting for the paintings.  The paintings are about an idyll, about friendship and desire, the inarticulate self, communicating emotions through paint.

'In the Park' (above) shows river & lake, a mixture of aerial-view and looking through trees. A group of friends in the top left, and another hidden figure behind the off-white shape that establishes the foreground. It is the same figure- the rear view of a man in an overcoat  - that appeared in my college paintings and re-emerged as 'Stillman' in 'City of Glass'.

'The Lake'    90x72cms

'The Lake', with the fiery willow tree, started off as a picture of a girl, the reddish bush in the background was the back of her head. (She reappears later). I still think this is my best ever depiction of weather and water. In parallel, there was a  painting of the lake that became a figure painting, sadly lost. 

'The Garden of Eden'     175x300cms

On the lake-edge I found a tree where a branch had been removed, leaving behind a perfect heart-shape.  This became the setting for a painting about love, despair, desire and deception.  What I took from 'The Magus' was the idea of the masque and the manipulations of reality and fantasy. Is the girl real or an ideal? - the statue/girl a devise for disguise. The motif of the yellow boat, scratched into the paint and surrounded by text, is taken from 'Melancholy' by Edvard Munch - in some versions it is called 'Jealousy'.......The heart-shape and the snake and the erection were all painted out - too obvious- leaving something raw, starker, bleaker- the message in the painting the enormous, empty space between the two figures.

The building reflected in the water is the pump-house, now a gallery, where we used to go late at night after a few pints. We also used to 'borrow' the boats and row out to the island.

'Southolm St, SW11'   30x20cms


The house on Southolm St was surrounded by railways and although the park was a few minutes walk away, I considered the railway-bridge/arch at the end of the street as a gateway, an entrance….. The upside-down arch became a motif, a reflection in the lake.  The figure is probably myself, the house wasn’t pink and there was no tree.

'The Girl'   180x60cms


The bleakness of the ‘Garden of Eden’ was followed by a triptych of near life-size figures, boy on the left, girl, on the right and in the centre an embrace. All that remains is the painting of the girl and the face of the boy-figure, transformed into ‘The Tree’. 
‘The Girl’ was originally called ‘The Awkwardness of Nakedness or The Look That Destroys Men’. Reality and fiction intertwined again, another John Fowles connection, this time a look that Sarah (Meryl Streep) gives to Charles (Jeremy Irons) in the film of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’.
It is has been cathartic, looking back on these works and my life, as it was, contained within them.

'The Island'   60x90cms

'The Tree'    30x20cms

In the studio

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Just Released - Our Painting Holidays in Cornwall - 2015

5 Day Painting Holidays in Cornwall

11 - 16 May & 21 - 26 September

We are celebrating our 5th successful year of running our 'Freedom in Painting' holidays in Cornwall this year, and as a way of sharing our celebrations with you, we are offering everyone a £30 discount - if you book by 28th February. So if you've ever thought about coming along - this is definitely the year to do it!

Our holidays are a wonderful opportunity to spend 2 days working in 4 stunning locations on Cornwall's north and south coast followed by 2 full days developing the paintings and ideas in our village studio, high on Bodmin Moor.

Prices from £420 include:

  • 5 nights accommodation
  • 4 full days tuition
  • 1 to 1 tuition
  • Group critiques
  • All lunches
  • Ferry trip to Polruan (Sep Hol)
  • Celebratory last night evening meal 

There are lots of accommodation options available depending on your budget and requirements -  you can hire a cottage on your own, share a cottage with friends or make new friends sharing a cottage. You can even book the holiday as a course only for £360 or come along as a non-participant at a special rate.

In collaboration with Great Art and Discover Art magazine, we offered a free place on our September holiday  in a competition last year and the winner Nicola McLean was asked by Discover Art magazine to write about her experiences with us. You can read Nicola's write up here.

You can be assured of the highest level of teaching throughout the course. Ashley has a wealth of experience both as an artist and tutor. He has been a Visiting Lecturer at Canterbury Christchurch University and the National Academy of Art, Bergen, Norway and has shown at many galleries nationally and internationally including selection for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the National Open art Competition and the Discerning Eye. Ashley has recently been elected a member of the Newlyn Arts Society.

We feel very privileged to have made so many great friends on our holidays along the way, with many of them returning year after year. We often here how Ashley's tutoring continues to inspire and benefit artists long after the course.

I had some really good feedback from the new work I produced after my course last year - have really tried to introduce Ashley's brighter colour palette to my paintings.
Debbie Zoutewelle 2014

My course with Ashley has moved my art work in a different direction. I have happy memories of my Cornwall week.
Fiona Robertson 2014

I'm impatient to have time to explore working now loosely on landscapes - Ashley's workshop has potentially set me on a new road artistically.
Nicola McLean 2014

I always love to see how your work is shaping, and the pics from each course you run. When I can , I'd love to come back again, as your ways are so inspiring and I can see how they are there in my work now, methodology and language.
Phil Longhurst 2014

Penzance 4 - Ashley Hanson

To Book

To find out more about this year's holidays and prices see here or email

Remember - don't leave it too late! Book before 28th February and get a £30 discount.

You can find lots more information about Ashley's art practice at
For write ups on previous holidays, courses, art and exhibitions see also

Thanks to artist Heather Rachel Johnston for the use of selective photos.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Canterbury Workshop - 'The Space Between'

Katrina Dallamore's painting

Ashley's  much anticipated 'Freedom in Painting' workshop at Canterbury Christchurch University was yet again another full house. This time the theme was 'The Space Between' and in advance of the course the artists were encouraged to look at two paintings by Matisse, 'Open Window, Collioure' (1905) and 'Window at Collioure (1914)

Ashley with the groups drawings
Bridget Thompson & David Carnegie's paintings

The workshop started with a simple still life and the group were asked to do 10 - 12 drawings of different arrangements and view points of the 2 objects, concentrating on the space between them. These studies became the basis of the first painting.

Laurie Porter's Painting
Everyone brought along a second canvas and with this painting, the artists had the option to switch to a view through an open window, concentrating on the idea of the space between.

On the morning of the second day Ashley demonstrated the idea of 'freedom' and exploration of the subject, which the group seemed to enjoy and gave them something to think about.

Kate Sexton's painting

A lot of ground was covered but the artists all rose to the challenge and as always, some very exciting, highly individualistic work was produced - some figurative, some abstract, some in the space between.....

The workshop had strong links with his own work. Ashley has been exploring this theme himself in his recent paintings see recent Blog post & November post

Kat Wiles painting

Most of the group had 2 paintings to discuss and so the group critique took a bit longer than anticipated. Ashley would like to apologies for over running - given the chance Ashley would talk all day about the paintings, but he has promised to improve his time keeping for the next workshop! He really enjoyed working with you all and came back exhausted and exhilarated! 

Sarah Stokes painting

Thank-you to everyone who attended and for all your very useful feed back. Special thanks to Antonia and Sarah for allowing me to use their photographs. We haven't been able to include everyone's paintings in this blog post - and they were all so good it was impossible to choose, so there are lots more on this link to facebook. 

Antonia Glynne Jones painting

Teddy Kempster's painting
Ashley went on the next day to give a talk and demonstration at the Weald of Kent Art Group. Thank-you to John and the rest of the group for your wonderful hospitality.

We do hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a successful, creative New Year and hope to see you again next year!

Best wishes

Denise & Ashley

Some comments from the workshop:

Very supportive approach and good teaching style. Feel more confident
Katrina Dallamore

Ashley's very approachable, gentle and sensitive while being a clear dynamic tutor and workshop leader. Big thank-you, thoroughly enjoyed my journey!
Selina Firth

As always, stimulating, challenging, exhausting! I look forward to more.
Teddy Kempster

Useful drawing, fantastic subject, title/brief and great enthusiasm.
Antonia Glynne Jones

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

'City of Glass 28- (The Space Between)'

'City of Glass 28 - (The Space Between)'  60x50cms

The space between left-side and right-side, between West Side and East Side. The space between the front and back of the painting, between interior and horizon. The space between shifting planes of colour and between lines. The space between figurative and abstract, fact and fiction, between map-truth and painting truth.
I have been working on this painting for the fast few days and it is directty connected to the forthcoming Canterbury workshop 'The Space Between.. and the ideas from the last painting in the series, 'The Stillman Apartment'. Once again 'the space between' is Central Park and I have been exploring ways to make it dominant, the subject of the painting. The link to the novel* is obscured: the proportions of city blocks and the park with Columbus Circle anchoring the painting on the bottom edge. But these 'facts' are ambiguous and subservient to the painting. The black/violet space is deep and seductive.  I spent an hour staring into that space late last night. Ceramic artist Paul Jackson saw the painting today and posed a question about the grey/green shape hanging in the violet from the horizon/69th St.  The comment made me look hard again but I decided the shape must stay: it is an escape, a way out and is where the eye comes to rest,
A breakthrough piece.

in progress
in progress

* 'The New York Trilogy', a novel by Paul Auster 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

City of Glass 27- (The Stillman Apartment/ the Space Between)

'City of Glass 27'  160x80cms  VERSION 1

It has taken a while but the latest 'City of Glass'* painting has emerged with satisfying ambiguities.  There are even two titles, two ways in, even two possible solutions. (I removed the ziggurat shaped top section but it's worth another look now the painting has moved on).
The blue block is of course Central Park, 'the space between' West Side and East Side, but continuing the themes of the series and my interest in the play between the plan view of New York, the grid of the streets and frontal view, I have also made Central Park an entrance, a gateway to a space beyond.
During the process I had the figure of Stillman walking through the opening but the idea never worked. Colour replaced image, much more intriguing, the last of my Williamsburg paint -'Sevre Blue' and 'Courbet Green' - boosting the intensity of the block at the southern end of the Park.
The dividing line between the canvases is 69th St, highlighting the location of the Stillman apartment but the painting can also read as an interior, inside the apartment.  Referencing Matisse's 'French Window at Coulliere', the blue block is an opening, a view to outside, but the denseness and emptiness of the negative space dominate. The blue is both inside and outside. 8,7,6,5th Avenues below Central Park become a balcony. I love the uncertainty of the definition between vertical and horizontal planes.

I am still coming to terms with this piece - it inhabits the space between abstraction and figuration but the blue is something else, something sensuous, seductive and undefinable.


In the alternative ending (VERSION 2), you lose the idea of being physically inside the apartment but the ziggurat- topped tower- shape is the apartment building on 69th St and links to the Tower of Babel in the story. With the severity of its' shape, the increase in greys and the abrupt ending of the blues at 110St, the tower-shape is oppressive resonating with the darkness in the novel and with the atmosphere inside the apartment when Quinn meets Peter and where of course the story ends. This version is more about image and object and claustrophobia, the other more about colour and the senses.

I love the idea of the two alternative endings/versions. It happens in literature, 'The French Lieutenants' Woman (and The Magus?), and in film, the two versions of Apocalypse Now!, why not in painting?
I may change the name of the first version to 'The Blue Space'


'What is not possible is not to choose'    Jean-Paul Sartre. 

All the artists who have been on my 'Freedom in Painting' courses will recognise this quote, often nailed, Luther-like to the studio door.  However, with this piece, with the two versions, two solutions, I have decided not to choose because I believe they both work in their own, different way.   I find it exciting, that with one screw, I can make the severest of editing, and make a very different painting.
We have had the 'roof' on for a couple of days, now it's time to take it off and enjoy the interior of the apartment.  

I have, however, been decisive with the title, it is now simply called The Stillman Apartment.

'The space between...' is the theme I set for the forthcoming Canterbury workshop and the words and concept have been constantly in my thoughts in this piece. The idea will drive the next paintings in the series. I was in St.Ives, Porthleven and Falmouth on a perfect day yesterday, enjoying the moment but painting in my head, ideas, colours, words, compositions. Smaller canvases next- I wish to make something as powerful as the blue in 'The Stillman Apartment'...the detail above gives a clue to the direction I will be taking..

This painting happened because I was in the studio day after day- it is the only way to work, to focus. I had a fascinating talk with curator Charlotte Davis at Falmouth Art Gallery yesterday. She organised and participated in a 24 drawing session. It is a bizarre concept but poses many questions; is it possible to focus for 24 hrs?  Because of the intensity of the session will the work go somewhere new?  I'm going to take part in the next one, work on a painting for 24hrs...catch a train home! 

* from 'The New York Trilogy', a novel by Paul Auster

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Paul Auster speaks......

Denise recently sent a catalogue of the 'City of Glass' series to Paul Auster's agent in New York, to introduce him to the series and as a way of saying thank-you for the inspiration. Yesterday I was thrilled to receive the following response:

Dear Mr. Hanson,

Incredibly moved by your magnificent paintings. They are strong and
beautiful -- and haunting. To think that my book could have inspired such
vivid colors. I am very happy. 

All best thoughts to you, 

Paul Auster

My paint-spattered copy of The New York Trilogy

A post about the latest painting in the series, working title 'City of Glass 27- (Shadow)' will follow shortly.