Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Treats: Harry Hancock

Introducing the brilliant and devilishly charming, Harry Hancock. Over the weekend I had the great pleasure of spending time not only with a friend and colleague, but an extremely astute, studied, and insightful  artist who I feel to be a huge talent emerging on the New York City art scene. One cursory glance at Harry's newest piece, Samson, and you know you are in the presence of greatness.

Of course, Harry will probably blush reading this, (the man's an artist), but here's where I come in and tell you about Harry.

Harry is originally from rural Southwest England but is quite the traveling man, having lived in Italy and now New York for quite a few years. He formally studied art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and formally trained at the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy. But when I asked Harry if he could first identify the moment he knew he was an artist he gave me the question/answer all artists struggle with, "You mean when I knew or when I..." I filled in the blank. "Confessed?" He laughed and admitted, "True, there is a bit about 'coming out' as an artist." We debated about the struggle to call one's self "an artist" if you were not making a living as one, which neither of us are...yet. He then pointed around his studio and and added, "But, it's pretty clear, I think, that I mean it." But Harry has really known since he was around age 11 or 12. Harry, who is also a well studied pianist, felt something happening with his hands, the sensory experience of making music, creating art, with his hands. If you watch the video, you will see why this makes sense coming from Harry. 
He is hands-on in every part of the process of creating a painting from stretching the canvas, to making his own paint, to standing on a stool with a broom-stick handled paintbrush to start the beginning stages of his exquisite, Samson.  The story of Samson comes from the Book of Judges in the Bible.  The short version goes that Samson's mother, an Israelite was visited by an angel, supposedly a Philistine. Samson was born straddling two worlds, living on the threshold between two cultures which is a theme found in many of Harry's paintings, perhaps also a reflection of the cultural identities he straddles in his own life. This is also why Samson the painting, will exist in the fictive world: on the canvas. But also, there will be hair protruding from the painting existing in the real world.  Samson was also a Nazarite who had taken vows not to cut his hair or drink wine, not even grapes, which was supposed to give one power. These vows were his secrets to his strength, a secret he kept until his wife, Delilah, begged him to tell her where he drew his power from. After many lies, he finally tells her, lets her cut his hair and tie him up. When she cries out that the Philistines are coming, Samson cannot fend them off. He is captured and his eyes are poked out. But while in prison his hair grows long again, his strength comes back and he knocks down the pillars of the palace killing everyone inside including himself. As Harry told me the story, he added, "But it all was a bit self-imposed, as if Samson wanted to be betrayed." I suggested that perhaps surviving betrayal was the ultimate test of one's strength. Harry smiled, "Fortunately, I wouldn't know."
Harry & Moses
Having a conversation with Harry is like taking a trip through time. He is so incredibly versed in history, art, and language. His influences are largely Baroque including Caravaggio, Velazquez, Rubens and Ribera with a little bit of Van Gogh as you can see (he pointed out) with the cross-hatch brush strokes. (See the picture below for that brush!)  Harry also speaks about four languages fluently (English, Spanish, Italian, French) as well as "speaking Latin" and he has basic German. For his day job he teaches Latin at a private school in Manhattan. When asked about the role as teacher and artist, his answer was simply, "The role of the artist is as a teacher." Teaching Latin keeps him in touch with Roman art and connected with art from long ago which he feels is especially important at this cusp in time, which he calls "a beacon of the old world and the
new." He went on to say, "My painting has evolved by tunneling through time" and he stressed the importance of using one's hands. If it is true that our brains developed through our hands developing (fine motor skills), Harry wonders if living in a digital age, where so much can be created or discovered with the push of a button, is in someway limiting us. For Harry, he's an old fashioned kind of artist. The physical process is equally as important as the product. He compares "the idea of a painting as metaphor for the body."

"When you come into a room and see a painting, you should register there's a presence there." For Harry, that's what makes a painting "alive." When I walked into Harry's studio and he unveiled Samson that is exactly how I felt. It literally took my breath away.

But Samson is not the only painting of Harry's that I have been speechless over. Some of my favorites are his landscapes which have been springing up around the city. He had an exhibit this past month at the Hudson View Gardens Gallery, Samson  will be mounted (a little pun intended) at Macdiel Studio during Art Basel in Miami next week, and get ready, New Yorkers, Harry is having a show in the spring, (April or May) at Clic Gallery in SoHo. There, he plans to show some of the landscape paintings he did this past summer while on a road trip around the Good Ol' US of A. For a sneak peak, check out the pictures below!
Mount Rushmore

Sioux Falls
Point Imperial Sunset
In closing, I would like to revisit the idea of straddling the line of two worlds, two cultures, two identities, which is also part of the reason that I love Harry's surreal paintings...that's right, Harry has got a bit of "strange" going on. (Not so fast, Harry!) Some of Harry's more "peculiar" or "darker" worsk are the kind of thing I LOVE. I have only been able to acquire prints, but I'm saving up! Like this lovely, right here called Lines. I die... or the haunting "portrait" below known as Echo.
I could write a week's worth of posts on Harry and his work, so I will stop here so you can see for yourself through his blog http://harryhancock.com/, following him on twitter @harryhancock or by doing your mind, your senses and your soul a favor by going to one of his upcoming shows. Miami folks, check it out! Macdiel Studio, 46 NW 36 Street, December! And all you North Easterners, check out the Clic Gallery in the Spring.

And Harry, we are all staying tuned for more paintings and reflections from your wonderful, colorful life.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this talent! His work is wonderful..

Lindsey said...

Thanks! Isn't he awesome!

Carmen said...

i love this artist's work. so talented and intelligent (and handsome)

Amit Kawale said...

Hey Harry, you are great artist at same time you are wonderful person too. Your artworks says a lot... We met only for 2days but you gave me lifetime inspiration. Thanks and glad to see your wonderful artwork in future