Stephen Hannock: Moving Water, Fleeting Light
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About the Author
Jason Rosenfeld is Assistant Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, New York. Alison Smith is a curator at Tate Britain specializing in nineteenth century British art.
Martha is an independent curator of American art.
Garrett White, founder of Five Ties Publishing, is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. His translations include An Uspeakable Betrayal: Selected Writings of Luis BuAuel, and Hollywood: Meccas of the Movies, by Blaise Cendrars.
Mark C. Taylor is a professor in and chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University. A leading philosopher and cultural critic, he is the author of thirty books and a regular contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News, and other publications. Mark lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and New York City. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Early in his career, Hannock became completely obsessed with light and its subtle variations through time and space. This obsession led him to paint his famous Oxbow masterpiece (found on the front cover) in a number of finished versions, with subtle differences in hue and cast. Each one of them is unique and projects its own emotion. The magnitude of the work represented here is staggering. Stephen Hannock's most recent works are refreshingly forthright. Rather than hiding behind his art, Hannock uses his canvas as a storytelling platform, inviting the viewer into his world.
This stunning new volume is bigger and more beautifully printed than any previous release. From the first page, the writers take us on a journey deep into the wonder and tragedy of Stephen Hannock's life, a story that constantly mirrors in his paintings. This book is so much more than a collection of fine art. Yes, the authors put Hannock's work in its proper place among major American art, but there is so much more here. It is a story about a life fully lived. Ambition, love, tragedy - all translated into breathtaking landscapes.
The van Eyk brothers were seminal figures in capturing light on canvas. In the fifteenth century the goal was to make paintings look as much as possible like real life. After their paintings were complete, the van Eyks glazed them with several layers of a transparent mixture of oil, turpentine and light pigment. The glaze gave a glow to the work and created the feeling of looking through a window. Most dramatic of all, it seemed to capture the reflective light of the underlying oil on the canvas to create a highly realistic effect. The van Eyks became masters of depicting realism through light and had a profound impact on subsequent artists. Hannock himself likes to stress the presence of light in his work. He prefers to call his landscapes "lightscapes" and admits to being obsessed with light. Light is, in fact, the first thing you notice when you look at almost all of his paintings.
Like the Van Eyks' glazes, Hannock adds an additional step after his paintings are finished. He power-sands his work so that the surface is polished, an effect that captures light as well as reflects it. In a way, it is similar to the Van Eyks' glaze by bringing out the quality of luminosity in the work. But whereas the Van Eyks' light is subtle, Hannock's is the most prominent aspect of the canvas. It is generally agreed that Hannock's work is in the tradition of the "luminism" of the Hudson River School, and Hannock, himself, does not refute his connection with the nineteenth century Romantics. Yet it is not hard to see that Hannock's work is different. The earlier luminists' work, as beautiful as it is, seems to absorb rather than emit light. Their landscapes, too, have a completely different quality. They are usually serene with a predominant transcendent mood. Hannock's work, on the other hand, reflects light luminously and has a kinetic aspect to them. The mood is rarely tranquil and serene.
In light of the sanding, scraping and multiple glazing of Hannock's paintings, you begin to study the light much more closely. If someone has been sanding (!) a painting, which almost seems sacrilegious, wouldn't it be scraped and damaged or at the least, shredded to something ugly and torn, rather than gorgeous? And Hannock's work is gorgeous. His Oxbow, After Cole, After Church, Flooded, which was originally supposed to hang in the Met for six months, now four years later still hangs at the entrance to the contemporary wing. Next month, Steve will be lecturing the docents at the museum on this painting, which leads me to believe it will be hanging there a lot longer. The painting is a pastoral scene of a section of the Connecticut River. The sun is setting below the mountain in the distance. The clouds shimmer with light. After seeing this painting it's still hard to believe that clouds could shimmer with light after they've been sanded with a belt-sander. Yet, along with the river, the clouds truly shimmer. As Hannock progressed over the years his skills increased. The landscapes are highly detailed, devoid of animals or people, but always continue to focus on the light - almost as if the light were the figure or subject in the painting.
The use of oils and glazes, such as used by the van Eck brothers is evident. The result, like the paintings of Thomas Cole and Frederick Church and other Hudson River School painters, is a stunning landscape, but unmistakably a "Hannock". Unlike Cole and Church the light source seemingly emerges from the painting, rather that like those of the Hudson River School where the light was not as real perhaps as the landscape that was being depicted. Hudson River School paintings are of green trees, the Hudson River, pastoral landscapes and the Catskill Mountains in the background. These painters lived on the Hudson River, south of Albany, and painted the grand sunsets of the area. Hannock, grew up in Albany, went to school there and in Brewster, NY and later in the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts. His vision is the same, but the results are strikingly new and refreshing.
For Hannock, all painting is contemporary, meaning when painters work, they do it within the context of their time. Whether done in 1704 or 1804 or 2004 it was new contemporary when it was created. That is, it was new for its time, but growing out the past. What's important is to see where you're coming from, and take it to someplace new. For Hannock, he grew up where the Hudson River School painters did, lived viewing the same landscapes and clearly has the technical skill that these earlier painters possessed. So why do the same thing? If all Steve Hannock did were to try to reproduce the works of these other artists, it would be a waste of time. What he has done is moved the body of work forward. With his sanding, with the personal notes inscribed on the paintings, with the launch series, and the nocturne series, Hannock has taken the Hudson River to a higher plane. He has used a creative process to elevate the work, As the van Eyks developed glazes to elevate their work, as Cole and Church did with lit beauty expressed in their work, Hannock has used his creative skills and belt-sanders to take this genre of painting to the next level.
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