I had planned to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) to see two exhibitions; Jonny Hannah’s Main Street & KAWS first UK exhibition. I’d heard of Jonny Hannah’s work before, and was keen to see it up close, I liked the lose free feel of his illustrations. KAWS however was something new, I’d been reading recommendations about his work, and felt like seeing it for myself.
KAWS work at first looked like something of an opposite to Hannah’s, his being sculptures of cartoon like creatures and graffiti. But actually having seen both up close I think both were creating work influenced by or responding to popular culture, and consumerism, albeit from different angles.
Main Street – Jonny Hannah
Jonny Hannah is described as an “illustrator, painter, print maker and designer” (St. Judes, 2015) and he really does live up to that description. I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect from his exhibition but was so pleasantly surprised by the volume, vitality and skill in his work.
Main Street begins in the hallway of the YSP, with his work displayed in the window of the gift shop, a perfectly suited arrangement or placement given the theme of the exhibit, described by the YSP as “an homage to the independent trader”. As we travelled further along the hallway and looked up there were a row of larger than life shop signs hand cut and painted on wood hanging from the ceiling.
I love the arrangement of these, so you can see glimpses of the each shop sign as you move further along the hallway. I also love the quality of these, the hand painted finish, the choices of a certain colour palette for each brings that sense of uniqueness and independence. The closer you get to these the more detail becomes apparent and it’s delightful. Even more delightful is the hand lettering painted on the back of the signs so that when you travel back through the hallway you’re treated by another visual feast.
Main street continues, with work up the stairways to the first floor, then in the walkway to the exhibition room, in the room itself and in the stairways down to the exit. It’s an immersive experience. Wherever you turn there’s some beautifully unique painting, or screen print, or linocut or painted construction. Hannah takes it one step further tying everything together with his own logo for the exhibition, like a branding of sorts, which I think could be see as a nod towards consumer culture today, where branding plays a massive role in the commercial world. The application of this branding though is wonderfully playful and creative, not cold or clinical. It doesn’t feel like branding to purely indicate ownership but rather to connect everything together.
I particularly loved these painted wooden constructions, these are just a few of the many visible ones:
I really like the use of colours on the creosote can sign; really warm and welcoming, the illustrated feel, similarly I like the imperfect proportions of the house sculpture and the lines painted along it which make it feel like a shop front to a butchers or old fashioned store. I like the layers of texture created by each colour and brush strokes/small marks in the shirt piece.
As a print-maker I was really blown away by Hannah’s use of colour and precise techniques when it came to his screen-prints and linocut prints. Both had different qualities to them and were produced in a variety of scales and colour schemes. He seems to have been so inspired by the theme to create such a vast amount of work:
I found myself really admiring Hannah’s ability to pick coherent colour palette’s for his work. Also his technique – in the close up above, he’s managed to over print multiple colours without each one being lost.
One of my favourite pieces is the screen print below, not because of the subject matter but because of the style. I think he’s managed to use that combination of yellow and purple without it looking trite, the boxes of text give movement and add an almost comic strip effect.
Another favourite piece is the screen print below:
I’ve always found it hard to print onto brown paper, especially text things seem to get lost, but the contrast of the white and black and the touches of light blue and read give it a really great vibe.
I think I could literally go on and on showing examples but I think I’ll leave it there, my final photo from the exhibition is of one of the stairwells. I took a photo of my husband looking intently at the works, and for me it captures how I felt going round. I could’ve stayed for hours taking in all of the work and admiring his style and skill. Okay one more thing: a link to Jonny Hannah talking about his work.