H Craig Hanna
Sketchbook by H Craig Hanna
8.5 x 12″ 232 pages Hardcover
Editions Somogy. 2008
Reviewed by Tim McLaughlin
His portraits are […] diptychs where, on the one hand, the absolute of a substance or color takes the place of the gods of old, and on the other, the figure has lost the hands of the prayer.
These reviews usually focus on photography and photobooks. However, it would seem that the best photography owes it’s power to the ability to represent something which portrait artists, working in traditional media, accomplish much more naturally. Attempts to define, even vaguely, what this “something” is usually fail, but the attempt itself can be interesting. It is this ‘something’ that separates draftsmanship from art, and it is precisely this elusive nature that makes one return, again and again, to an image in an attempt to feel what it is that tips the balance.
In the Sketchbook by H. Craig Hanna almost every page has this inexplicable quality. The images don’t represent the world, they reconfigure it. Hanna has taken his refined, renaissance skill and then backed up a bit, distressed the image slightly, and through his manipulations amplified the power of these works to communicate both as portraits and as artifacts on paper. One is caught as the face forms out of marks made by the hand. The result is a masterful play between technique and visage. As Laurence Lhinares states in the introductory essay to the book:
Craig Hanna opposes or approaches, we don’t quite know how, pure painting and a taut description of the figure. The counterpoint can play with the opposition of a face in front of two parallel lines, or of a naked body with a simple flower in front of the striations of a wooden panel, a material that the artist overtly displays.
Sketchbook contains the pages and traces of an artist’s life. The spiral rings of the original are just visible and show the edge of the territory. Some pages are filled with Hanna’s scrawl, a writing that unlike his images, has no sense of beauty. As if the image exhausted him and he could not bring himself to control the letters. Some of the work is deliberately loose, as if Hanna were holding back his considerable ability to delineate the objects of the world. The tension between skill and looseness hints at a dramatic power struggle, perhaps one that take place between different parts of the same man.
Hanna’s work is widely exhibited in the art centres of Europe. He earned a commendation in the 2001 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London. And his work is on regular exhibition at Laurence Esnol Gallery in Paris. Sketchbook is available there or online from the usual sellers.
It is rare that one can call a book unreservedly brilliant. This one is.