On Painting

The city is a backdrop to our lives. We are constantly interacting with it. The city often reflects our openness to beauty. Beauty is not necessarily conventional, but it is always personal, always deeply felt and sensed in direct connection to things observed. That is a truth for me and that is why I paint. I invite you to learn a bit more about my painting process and to place that knowledge in a historical context.

In my university art training, my school had a strong printmaking department led by very compelling teachers who loved American Twentieth century artists. One of my teachers’ favorites, Edward Hopper, became one of mine. Hopper’s work is representational and evokes a sense of time and place filled with expectation, stillness and a palpable sense of isolation. His images are visual poetry for me. They are a touchstone for my own painting practice.

Edward Hopper “Nighthawk”

My own expression in painting alludes to a sensibility similar to Hopper’s in that my aesthetic is a response to my perception of the reality of urban life. Hopper and I share a personal effort towards the revitalization and continuation of the realist tradition even though we live (or lived) in times where there is a multiplicity of modes of expression, each with plenty of momentum. Hopper worked at a time when Impressionism, Cubism and Expressionism had already taken very firm hold. Hopper cited the American painter Thomas Eakins as having been in a similar position with regard to contemporary styles in the 19th century, therefore showing an understanding of his position with regard to contemporary stylist traditions. With his contemporaries like Robert Henri, George Luks, John Sloan, William Glackens and George Bellows, Hopper was able to connect to the ongoing allure of the city in contemporary life and these artist’s efforts formed a movement reflecting the values of their times. My connection to this American School of painting has merged with my own feeling for painting and manifests in my work. I view my artistic output as a contemporary link in this chain of artists who have advanced representational painting using their urban backdrop as the motif. Like these artists, I live in the city and these images come from direct experience. My work reflects how small city Canada looks and feels upon entering the 21st century.

Through painting, I attempt to create a portrait revealing contemporary life in this 21st century, but one that is not simply objectively realist. I infuse my work with whatever nuances of light and mood I am feeling in response to the subject. I have a deep connection to our city, this everyday world surrounding us with its’ rugged, worn and rusty beauty. I really connect with the city and I look at my motifs with a certain intellectual and aesthetic independence. I feel I can alter the subject matter to align with my own sensibility. Within this process, I’m interpreting select “things” and synthesizing them into a cohesive whole. I’m able to do this through staging, lighting and composition. These are the key elements of my style.

Regarding staging, I feel the elements of a scene are there for me to move around like props in a play. I direct my own painting this way, like a film director arranges props on set to create a workable camera angle. In my case, I’m moving the position of telephone poles, buildings, trees and such until I find compositions that hold together to bring out the essence of the subject. If a telephone pole needs to be larger or smaller to satisfy a pictorial concern of mine, I simply adjust its’ scale and position to work in the painting, or I’m free to paint it out entirely if that feels best.

I connect with motifs that reveal themselves through light. I often return to my motifs to see them in several conditions of light. This helps me in selecting what light best reflects my response to the scene. I appreciate the light at transition times of day when there is still light in the sky, yet this natural light is contrasted with the urban lighting of streetlights, signs and windows. My urban paintings are filled with examples of this transitional light. In my view, this light symbolizes continual transition, things never staying the same. “Point Pleasant Grocery” is a prime example as it embodies my urban aesthetic concerns and brings them forward through staging, lighting and composition.

Paul Hannon “Point Pleasant Grocery”

Working with urban realism gives me the opportunity to develop my compositional style based on simple, large geometric forms, gradated masses of color and my use of architectural elements to create strong verticals, horizontals and diagonals. Composition lends clear support to my unique expression of the urban view. I rarely give the viewer a compositional exit in my paintings; no deep horizon to gaze into, but rather a tightly composed picture plane animated with the stuff of the city. I want the viewer to be held within the staged arena of the piece and to focus on the details of it’s content. Right there is where all possibilities of narrative connection with the viewer occur. Connecting all of my formal concerns in painting is my sense of color. I look towards a fresh, cohesive palette leaning towards moderately high chroma, however I strive for balance with a generous supply of neutral tones. I keep adjusting the color until the painting feels right to me. I build up the oil paint film through a series of overlapping transparent glazes.

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