|'The Sea' 80x80cms oil on canvas 2017|
A writer and friend Ali Day has written a perceptive essay on my latest painting 'The Sea' and through her words I am looking again at my painting in a different way. Her observations pinpoint the principles that define my practice, finding that elusive balance between freedom and control, succinctly described by Anselm Keifer in the forward to his exhibition 'Il Mistero de Cattedrell' at White Cube: 'If there is too much order it is dead; if there is too much chaos, it doesn't cohere. I'm continually negotiating between these extremes'
Porthleven’s quintessence of character, style, and uniqueness is timelessly appealing for artists who love to work close to the sea and is where its essence can be captured fervently. Re-living the fine memories of romantic Porthleven is the easiest thing to do when faced with an Ashley Hanson oil painting. Bright tints and pigments combined together, reveal an intense flamboyance and style which is conjured from the artist’s connection with the harbourside and sea beyond. Hanson’s orchestrations of paint enable a glorious recreation of atmosphere, emotion, and the vibrancies of this pretty Cornish village. His art is a successful homage to Porthleven and its community.
Hanson’s technique is to interpret the visual, spatial and transcendental through colour. He is concerned not with what colour things are, but the meaning they radiate, when linked side by side or when combined with other marks and impressions on canvas. Peter Lanyon, said, ‘It is impossible for me to make a painting which has no reference to the powerful environment in which I live’. It is easy to see that Hanson’s approach to meaning is similarly taken from the environment, predominantly a response to landscape through colour.
Porthleven, is a thriving village on the Lizard Peninsula, and is the most southerly port in Britain; it’s a special location, loved by artists even more so because its uniqueness as a typical Cornish seaside town seen by some to be in jeopardy. The sights however still include the iconic clock tower, plentiful granite fisherman’s cottages, narrow cobbled streets, and pretty quayside lights, all complementing the sounds and sights of a bustling fishing port.
On the Freedom in Painting course, steered and tutored by Ashley Hanson, we were given insights into the role of colour, mark-making, composition and the theme of choice and freedom for the artist. During one-to-one tuition, mentoring and collaboration with Ashley we each found something special in location and guidance. And the Old Lifeboat House studio too, is itself a little gem. It is perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the sea, and is a muse to the artist. It would be easy to throw a party in here, but similarly it’s a blessing to just have an opportunity to paint, to the soundtrack of the sea.
In an interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, Hanson has spoken of the origins of an idea, ‘I need a surprise in my painting,’ he tells the interviewer, Tiffany Truscott. This is something that allows his work to emit a fluency, freedom, and journey, because ideas develop during his process. Hanson uses this discipline to capture the essence of a place, emotional response, and the pursuit of difference.
Watching Ashley work was a key element on the course. Pointers given by Ashley to the course delegates triggered an understanding, and ultimately decision-making. When an idea is introduced into a painting, Hanson will test it to see if it works. It might be that through an accident or chance, something is born. It is then worked, manoeuvred, or even discarded. Hanson maintains that there is always the idea of a context, which is expressed in paint, so the piece is never completely abstract. Again, as Lanyon has said, ‘Paint represents experience, and makes it actual’. Hanson is a keen admirer of Lanyon and similarly likes to work with what is actual. There is an explanation so to speak, and he is able to talk and write about the ‘how and why’ that happens on the canvas.
I find Hanson’s art enlivening and uplifting. His paintings, if not created for space, attract space – perhaps because they give so much energy and vitality. There is a clean element, too. The purity of the colour enables the paintings to lift from the canvas. You do not get bogged down, looking, even though there is undoubtedly complexity when you do stare for a while. The work is striking, beautiful, gaudy, extravagant, and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.
Every now and again, I buy a painting; it’s a scary thing, but we do it because we want to live with it and look at it time and time again, finding new things with each viewing. It is exciting, and empowering, to go out, choose a painting that you love, possibly one of the reasons I think this is because paintings provoke questions, and also, as Thomas Moore said in Care of the Soul, ‘art intensifies the presence of the world’. I have a couple of Ashley Hanson paintings and because of this relationship, I have been able to borrow paintings, and offer my opinion. So, recently, Ashley came over with The Sea and hung it in the living room, and we had a brief conversation. I felt excited. For me, it was like having a brand new kitchen installed, in one second. I don’t really mean that, because art has so much more longevity and transcends consumerism.
‘It’s called The Sea; that’s it,’ he said.
‘I can see why,’ I think I said.
‘Can I write about it?’ I said, wondering what he might say.
‘Yes, of course; let me just tell you, the brush stroke there was the ending of the painting; and then it was finished’.
Hanson gesticulated, miming the action of running a brush along the bottom of the painting; he then had to go.
So, I was alone with the painting but I knew there wasn’t time for intimate looking as the house was going to be full soon, as everyone was coming home. I wanted to see how the painting interacted before I had my own time with it. I decided to do housework, and not to look – for the moment. I took glimpses and glances – a peripheral vision, but that was different. I was unconsciously recording what I liked I suppose. I was still waiting for the right moment for the deep study. The idea of a painting giving a performance, was not what I wanted, so I decided to leave it alone, for now, if that was possible!
It was a couple of days later when I came home from work one evening, before I was able to assimilate something in my mind. At about 7.30pm, I put my key in the front door and walked in. I was late in, not a problem though; I perceived everyone in motion, though not necessarily moving. My husband was cooking a risotto; my son was searching for more trainers online. And my girls were playing Lego peacefully. The painting was in motion too, and then I understood that the painting was a part of the narrative. I love the way Hanson’s work integrates with the observer and place.
Physically, there is an airy action; this is in the style of the brush strokes, that evoke charm, warmth, complexity. There is energy within. It’s possible that the painting evokes an empathetic voice. It acts as collaborator. Although all Hanson’s work is abstracted to some degree, it is not purely abstract, and this painting for me is more of an ambiguous painting. I have actually wondered if the painting is of a woman, or if there is an impression of woman.
After my full study of the painting, I found that it communicated meaning, on different days, at an assortment of times of the day, and in mixed ways. This was possibly to do with the ether in our house. I sensed a tomboyish nature emanating from the painting, perhaps because of an evocation of the sea’s energy. As I have already described, I wondered if there is a woman in this painting also. Ashley did tell me later, that for him, the sea is always feminine, curvaceous, stronger than the male structure which it pounds against. You could interpret this as a metaphor for the strength of women. The painting’s colours are sensitive; there is a sense of compassion, freedom and benevolence translated.
I do not find the loose brush strokes at all reckless, in fact I sense they are controlled and at the same time free. The intricacies, or the work’s smaller details, whether by design, accident, or both, are connected somehow, perhaps due to the colour purple, which flows, gushing down the canvas. Shapes appear in the painting – they are appealing – erotic? The colour purple also reminds me of the purple sea thrift flower, growing on the coastal paths.
Yesterday evening was Bonfire Night, and my husband and I decided to re-watch the film Gladiator. I’m getting to tell you how this relates…. The score for the screenplay was something we liked, so afterwards we decided to listen to it. The Now we are Free soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard is something we were both wowed by. I looked at the painting as we listened. The painting and the music worked well; there seemed to be an agreement or affiliation. I’m not sure if this was because we have the same taste in art as we do in music, or how this works! The painting did not overpower this strong piece of music. The two worked well together. I also noticed that as the soundtrack reached its climax, the painting receded; however, as the music gave way, the painting stood. I love the way art and music work together, and a Hanson painting is able to do just that. We continued with music that evening, listening to the Interstellar theme tune as well; I could imagine the sea wind, the flow of the tide, the freedom of the sea air at the coast. The deep, rich, orchestral notes matched a further boldness in the painting which I was not familiar with earlier. The bold brush strokes up and down, although strong, emitted a repose, as well as a quieter fundamental strength – perhaps I can see in the painting the strong granite pier at Porthleven, which extends into the sea and is able to withstand the force of the sensational waves that have hurled against it in recent storms.
Additionally, I love the movement in the painting, the sense of action and the ability to create an interior dialogue with the viewer as participator. As we all move, in time and space, if that is what we do, it is essential that the painting is not static. The bottle greens, teal blues, and hues emit a fresh warmth and seem to be positively charged. The painting feels ‘new’, and that’s not because it is new to the house; it feels new every day. I love the brandy purple at the top left, the chartreuse green, practically a psychedelic colour, neon even perhaps. It represents vitality, but also capitalizes the relevance of the The Old Lifeboat House studio.
Perhaps it is the purples again, that give the painting a vibe of something ceremonious, as well as feminine and soft. The purples, almost colbalt violets recall the impressionist movement and the atmospheric nature of art associated with it. There is the possibility of a depiction of waves, with the rhythmic, lyrical, brush strokes in places. They are not restrained brush strokes, but do not emit the sense of a storm either. There is serenity, control and calm within the sea’s movements.
The painting does have an abstract appearance; it’s certainly more abstract than some of Hanson’s other Porthleven pieces, although I am constantly brought back to wondering if there is something else, if we look. In the early morning dawn, one particular morning at home, the painting evoked the sea at its strongest, most representative, giving the home a distinct coastal, energetic feel. The Sea takes me back to Porthleven village, to the rather exotic harbourside smells from the restaurants serving the catch of the day, and the invitation to wander along the peaceful cobbled lanes, quietly soaking up everything. The timbre of the painting this morning has sound, but also has quiet. The regal purple colours at the top left are picked up by the eye, as is the gorgeous left side brush stroke which rises up. I guess this strong brush stroke, moves the eye away from the strength of the chartreuse green I described earlier. This flashy green, is in keeping with Hanson’s style, and is a reminder that this is a Hanson painting. There is something about the painting this morning that urges me to put my hands across the canvas, to find knowledge. I don’t really want to give it back.