Robert Hannaford in his studio, 2016. Photo credit: John Montesi
The prolific output of work by South Australian artist, Robert Hannaford (1944 – ), has taken many forms including flowing natural landscapes reminiscent of early twentieth century Heidelberg suite, quaint suburban snapshots of domestic life in the 70s, political cartoons, and figurative sculptures. However, it is his vibrant and poignant portraits that demand focus in the exhibition Robert Hannaford at the Art Gallery of South Australia. The collection features both self-portraits as well as commissioned portraits. Between rooms, display cabinets contain pages directly from the artist’s sketchbook, showing Hannaford’s aptitude for direct observation. This exhibition is not one to miss for portrait artists, artists interested in expressive brushwork, or simply individuals interested in the importance of Australian art.
Seeing the exhibition in person is vital in understanding the power of colour, scale, texture and its resulting intensity. Hannaford adheres to traditional tonal principles in his work, however he also explores a modern colour palette. By using saturated colours and bright pastel flesh tones, Hannaford’s work adopts a luminous and fresh quality. Deep red walls of the exhibition’s central room accentuate the heat of the flesh tones and generate an intensity that contrasts with other rooms’ gentle ambience.
Viewers will also be intrigued by Hannaford’s use of texture to capture dimension. Sculptural in his approach, Hannaford uses texture to highlight layers as they appear closer to the viewer and demonstrate contour. Other aspects of texture seem unintentional; imperfections of canvas or board surfaces and natural brush marks show his proficiency to work with his raw materials rather than to control them. Many of these textural elements, whether deliberate or accidental, make unconscious suggestions about the imperfections of the sitter and by that extension, that of humanity.
When inspecting the display cabinets, visitors may think the sketches juvenile in comparison to the stately paintings. However, gestural in nature, simple and bold in execution, and sometimes eliciting humour and surprise, these sketches encourage viewers to compare and recognise similar expressions in his larger paintings. Adorned on walls, the torn spiral bound pages of Hannaford’s sketch book are carefully framed and presented in the gallery to suggest that the artist’s process of experimentation is central to the final product. This juxtaposition helps artists gain insight into the relationship between thought, construction, and finalisation within the creative process.
Robert Hannaford with one of his portraits
This theme of experimentation and evolution is reflected in Hannaford’s progressive self- portraits, which encourage the audience to consider how we change, develop and reflect upon our own existence. Each painting demonstrates a different approach to self-reflection through changes in brushwork, physical expression, gaze, position of figure and angle – constantly seeking a deeper exploration of self and truth. Such an introspective display also encourages audiences to consider their own relationship with experience and reality. Compelled to depict the natural beauty of his sitter and subject matter objectively, Hannaford seeks to represent the ‘real’, in his work, and describes that painting is about the ability “to see” (Neylon, 2007). However, he does not refer to photo realism, but instead to the truth and realism of the experience. Hannaford therefore includes incidental elements of the sitter’s environment including books, jars, blankets, chairs, and other mundane items such as a “pump” water bottle.
Realism, however wrestles with the concept of artist interpretation. Hannaford investigates this conflict, describing in his official website that the self is often “difficult to be honest with”. As a result, Hannaford contributes to modern ideas regarding the triadic way we see ourselves, the way others see us, and how we look at others through portraiture. To a viewer, use of cropping, direct gaze, upfront angles, undressed forms and sketches all contribute to this sense of physical as well as emotional closeness to the artist. As a result, the audience feels like a spectator to Hannaford’s private world.
Close-up of one of Robert Hannaford’s portraits at The Art Gallery of South Australia. Photo Credit: Deanna Janssan
One creative choice by the gallery that could further be explored is the combination of other artists with Hannaford’s work. Some clear parallels between artist style, Australian origins, power of the sitter and artist’s inspiration are evident, although curator’s insight would be interesting and will hopefully be elaborated on during artists’ talks. Similarly, Hannaford’s video installments provide a new avenue for discussion. More of the artists’ landscapes (having an identity of their own) and would be a fitting subject matter for The Art Gallery of South Australia considering the artists upbringing. However, enthusiasts can also find more landscape works on display at Hill Smith Gallery between 9-25 July 2016. The exhibition fails to disappoint, and artists of all ages and backgrounds will find visiting educational and inspirational.
Neylon, John (2007) Robert Hannaford: Natural Eye. Wakefield Press. Kent Town, Australia. Print.
– Deanna Janssan
Robert Hannaford at The Art Gallery of South Australia
Until October 9th 2016
Robert Hannaford: Paintings and Drawings
Hill Smith Gallery
113, Pirie Street, Adelaide, SA
Until July 25th 2016