By Ferdin and Protzman March 29, 1997Greg Hannan should be the quintessential Washington artist. His Irish American family has been rooted downtown for generations. He studied anthropology at George Washington University, lives in Shaw, can recount local history not found in any book, knows every bass hole on the Potomac. But in his lyrical, austere paintings and poignant, richly textured assemblages of found objects, there is, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, no here there.Washington supplies some physical material for Hannan, in the form of objects culled from its streets and alleys. The city serves as backdrop for the personal history that drives him. But visually and emotionally his work has next to nothing in common with most significant art produced here since his birth in 1950. There is color but no Color School, abstraction but no geometry, conscious social commentary but no politics. Metaphysically speaking, Greg Hannan is not from here.Of late, that has been almost literally true. Hannan now spends most of each summer in Nova Scotia, where he has a farm and a small home built on piles in the Bay of Fundy. His art has also been largely absent. While individual pieces have appeared in a handful of group exhibitions around town over the past few years, Numark Gallery's current show, pairing Hannan's recent work with drawings and prints by Paris-based Edda Renouf, is his first major local exposure since 1991.It is a strong show by a unique and multitalented artist. Although he has little formal art training -- "I took one art course with Bill Christenberry at the Corcoran School in 1968. He gave me an incomplete.' " -- Hannan is a fine draftsman, a skilled painter and possesses a Celtic facility with language. He also has a rare ability to fashion meaningful art from things he finds along life's highways and byways.The works on display, priced from $2,500 to $8,000, constitute an eclectic blend reflecting the artist's wide-ranging interests and talent. The most powerful piece in the show is "100 Sins," a large, mixed-media assemblage completed this year in which egg sacs from skates have been numbered and mounted on small squares of weathered, painted plywood each bearing a written label such as "Envy," "Calumny," "Spite" and "Racism." The egg sacs, which are called "Devil's purses," were collected along the Canadian Atlantic coast by Hannan and his former girlfriend at the beginning of their relationship and again five years later, just before they suddenly broke up."I had done a smaller study for 100 Sins,' " Hannan says. "When I came back to do this big piece I had to think about the degraded qualities of a relationship, the sins of all relationships. To me, that includes behavior and those aspects that aren't overt. An action can be petty, but another aspect of being petty is a state of mind, and I think that makes pettiness a sin."Although they are natural forms, the egg sacs look remarkably like the demons painted by Hieronymus Bosch or depicted in Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting "Mad Meg," from 1562. Each sac is unique, and by soaking them in hot water and manipulating their tentacles, Hannan has made them expressively delicate, sometimes even playful but always ominous, like alluring baubles that pack a toxic sting. There is a wealth of anguish in the work, and male and female symbols scratched and drawn on the plywood indicate that some sins were shared by both parties in the relationship.
"Time to Get to Yellow No. 2," another assemblage of found objects Hannan completed earlier this year, is a variation on a theme he first explored in 1983, inspired by a female friend wearing a yellow jump suit. "I told her she was the only white woman I'd ever seen who looked good in yellow," he recalls. "And she said, You know, it's taken me a long time to get to yellow.' "One half of the assemblage is a painted-over window with a crosslike divider that Hannan found in Shaw. The other half is an abacus fashioned with floats from a fishing net as the counters. Hannan uses the idea of getting to yellow -- a color that traditionally symbolizes mystical enlightenment, as well as more mundane things like caution in traffic -- as a metaphor for achieving a higher consciousness. He sees the abacus, a recurrent symbol in his body of work, "as a parody of our attempts to calculate what occurs in life."The major back surgery Hannan underwent in 1995 was a dominant occurrence in his life and is partly responsible for the exhibition, which coincides with a solo show at Teplitzky & Scott Fine Art in Cincinnati. After having part of a disk removed and several others fused, Hannan had to give up his floor-sanding business. He focused his energy on art."I don't really think of myself as an artist in any traditional sense," Hannan says. "My work is strongly narrative. It's about personal dilemmas and cultural dilemmas. I'm basically a cultural anthropologist working in another vein. Working on things after the surgery, I finally felt as an artist that what I was doing was right on time."Edda Renouf's small drawings and prints in Numark's rear gallery go surprisingly well with Hannan's work. A 54-year-old American who has lived in Paris since 1972, Renouf combines elements of minimalism and geometric abstraction with a wavy freehand line that gives them tremendous texture and an almost musical resonance, like hearing music by just watching the notes dance across the page.The drawings are particularly appealing. In "Field 9 (Grasshopper Series)" from 1995, Renouf uses thick, fibrous paper, incised and drawn lines and brown pigment in a simple composition that conjures up such natural images as a field full of insects as well as scientific notions that suggest an instrument plotting the grasshopper's song on graph paper. link to article:Washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/an-artists-native-intelligence
TIME TO GET TO YELLOW, 1997found wood, Styrofoam 63” x 82” x 5”