“The artistic output of James Hanley is characterised by a passionate, power-punched and discomforting intensity.
James Hanley’s Grand Tourists are wry contemplations on the phenomenon of heritage. They offer references without genuflection and resonate as profoundly contemporary images. This exhibition brings the artist as curator, orchestrating the theme of the show, exploring its range, organising its exposition and display.
The oil paintings are as emblematic as any previously seen from the artist. Their assertive presentation belies a complexity of meaning. They are confidently and deliberately composed works that examine the range of visual imagery and media available to us today.
The worlds of posters, advertising, television, video and the cinema, each inform these compositions. They offer images that are virtually reality. The grand visual tour available to us all today is founded on the raiding of cultures and the borrowing of images, on cultural piracy, copyright agreemenets, licensing and reproduction rights. These are some of the realities of global culture in the visual media ... concerned with the issues of image reproduction but also with the exploitation conducted by each of us as cultural vacuum cleaners, heritage raiders, souvenir hunters, trophy collectors, sun-tan worshippers, world travellers.
It is not that James Hanley believes the centre cannot hold in the contemporary world about us, but that there is no centre. His paintings risk collapsing under the weight of their own irony. They open themselves to accusations that they are too clever by half. Rather, they are in fact, doubly clever in that the artist ridicules himself and his subjects simultaneously. He knows well that his work betrays his own preoccupation as a rapacious consumer of culture.”
From an essay by Brian P. Kennedy, National Gallery of Ireland, for the solo exhibition Grand Tourists, Hallward Gallery, Dublin, 1997
“Drawn from local and foreign experiences, these images, collected by the artist through photographs and sketches, are not simply the record of travel. They are a selection of scenes that provoke an association or trigger a form of nostalgia for the familiar, seeing in one image the fleeting of a painting by Corot, or a classic John Hinde colour-saturated scene, or a dramatic cinema still. Each view has been selected because of something particular in its composition, colouring, perspective, that becomes a reminder or a memory of something beyond itself.
The artist is known for his use of narrative in his work, and while many of these images are simple and direct translations of sea, sky and land, the possibility of creating a story around each view is difficult to resist. Unlike the rest of his work, however, the figure is not the main way in to these paintings. Any figures in these works are as significant only as the trees, or gulls or statues, or any other element. Here the landscapes themselves are the characters to be read, providing a series of potential connections, narratives and questions, but finally remaining enigmatic in their simplicity.”
From an essay by Órla Dukes for the solo exhibition Souvenir, Solomon Gallery, Dublin 2004