July / August 2003By George HowellSome shows are about seeing.While GREG HANNAN’S “2000-2002” (Signal 66, February 21-March 19, 2003) requires careful looking, once you are caught in his snare, feeling-in, both senses-replaces vision. For instance, many of his sculptures incorporate playthings like toy soldiers and tennis balls, objects casually picked up and tossed aside. Hannan’s retrieval of these castoffs emphasizes their tactile character, which makes his graphic works all the more surprising because you’d think a sculptor lured by the physicality of things would avoid the illusionism of trompe l’oeil. However, a powerful nostalgia tinged with bitterness underlies everything.Hannan is a long time figure in the DC art scene, part gadfly or part conscience, depending on how you read his very public complaints, especially that local talent is frequently overlooked by the major institutions here. Like Jeff Spaulding, another Washington-area sculptor, Hannan’s work melds poetic illusion with deft craftsmanship and, like Spaulding, Hannan has a scavenger’s sensibility. In gallery talks, Hannan often describes salvaging fixtures from demolished buildings to restore abandoned memories, though his work at times seems sidetracked by a quirky arbitrariness.Hannan’s carved wood pieces demonstrate both a craftsman’s skill and a con man’s art. The beautifully polished surface of Abbadon (sculpture #1) (1998-2002) almost tricks us into not noticing that this oversized, muscularly carved toy soldier’s armless upper torso is twisted 100 and eighty degrees. The large solitary doll’s leg of Heroic Study #1 (2001) is wood simulating cheap, crimped plastic. Hannan invokes nostalgia, though the deceitful surfaces send up warning flags.But Hannan’s surface treatment can send so many mixed signals that the work is almost unreadable. The swimming flat worm of Logo (Anellida Gallerista) (2002) is carved with the same attention to detail as Abbadon, but camouflaged by a grid laid on a painterly surface as scruffy as an old linoleum floor.
Gallerista suggests a pot short at art market bottom feeders, but who can tell?Hand crafting is also key to Hannan’s assemblages, as in a series of abacus-like forms, a cross between decayed window louvers and prayer beads. The dark earth toned wood of Progeny 5 (2000) is a subtle frame for a grid of brown, corroded tennis balls. Seemingly rougher, Making a Saint #2 (St. Theresa Avila) (2002) appears built from salvaged lumber, the chipped paint embracing the traces of imperfection. Hannan mixes abandonment, devotion and saintliness into a weird blend of discipline, control and despair. Heart of Glass 31 (2002) is an arresting piece. Its turtle-shell surface is built from small pieces of glass cut and fitted together, its valves formed out of bottle mouths. What triggered that imaginative leap, from a case of broken bottles, washed up on the shore, to a mending heart?Finally, Hannan’s graphic works appear, at first sight, to contradict his sculptural impulses, relying on trompe l’oeil illusionism.Couple #1 (no. 1) (2001) looks like a painted replica of a salvages warehouse door, but it is built from neatly fitted rectangles of red paper referring to the London art scene. More closed doors in the art world? Couple #1 (N0. 2) (2001) recalls William Wiley with its buried handwritten messages. The uniformly beat-up surface belies its carefully assembled elements, such as sheets of typewritten notes folded and bunched together to form tree roots. Suggesting a battered magnolia, the painting is enigmatic and inscrutable.Like a poet, Greg Hannan forms a curious rhyme between salvage and salvation, though his deft illusionism cautions us against giving in to first impressions.Published in Artpapers.org July / August 2003