Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Paper - Stephen Hannock-Kasterskill Falls

Stephen Hannock-Kasterskill Falls, 2005

This exhibit in the American Modern Art section of the Metropolitan Art Museum in NYC was a Stephen Hannock’s painting of Kasterskill Falls and was completed in 2005. Stephen Hannock’s work expresses his interest in people that influenced his life. Hannock’s work on this exhibit reflects the time through the 1990’s that besides writing on the canvas, he added elements that had personal significance as well. He takes journal entries from this period in his life and uses the text portion to create a story behind the picture that includes people, the setting, objects and/or feelings to add visual texture and creativity to his art. Hannock specifically wanted to pay tribute to two specific people in this painting. These two people were deceased and both loved and painted waterfalls. One passed away from Aids therefore Hannock incorporated a red Aids ribbon and the other person was his first art teacher after prep school for which he included photographs of tiny figures and an Art in America magazine cover. Hannock also used acrylic, alkyd and oil glazes with collage elements on canvas to create this piece of work.

When I first saw this exhibit, I just thought it was a picture of a waterfall with people in a natural setting. But as I got closer and examined it, I noticed words in sections as a dialog to certain parts of the painting. I then I noticed more and more sections depicting a collage of sorts with images and newspaper articles and magazine covers along with other objects representing the time and era that his journal entries were written. In my research, I discovered that Hannock used several places in the United States to record his diary entries for several exhibits such as the Hoosic River Valley in western Massachusetts, Madison Square Park in lower Manhattan and in the painting the Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains. I saw two of his paintings and both were of large scale. The Kaaterskill Falls exhibit was 9 feet by 8 feet. In order for him to express his text in his journal along with the collaged images, I found it necessary to have the exhibit this large in order for him to express not only in words but in images his life experiences at this point in time in his life.
Stephen Hannock’s biography includes that he was born on March 31st, 1951 in Albany, New York. He is an American painter known for his atmospheric landscapes which many times incorporated incorporate text inscriptions that related to family, friends or events of daily life. The artist creates his sandpaper-polished, oils on canvas using a signature technique that includes ripping into his paintings with power sanders and polishing each layer of paint. Many critics describe Hancock’s works as not only depicting traditional landscape paintings, but distinctively modern containing radical techniques as an American luminist painter. His paintings were multi-layered in both surface and meaning and portrays a manner that connects the past with the present.
To date, Hannock has painted over twenty Oxbow paintings and as part of the permanent collection, and currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the artist's painting Kaaterskill Falls for Frank Moore and Dan Hodermarsky, mentioned above as for whom the painting was made tribute to. Additionally, Hannock's work is in the collections at the following exhibition centers:

• National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
• Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
• Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, N.Y.
• Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA
• Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA
• Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
• Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
• Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
• Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; and
• Readers Digest Collection, Pleasantville, NY.

Hannock was quoted in the Deerfield Alumni Magazine saying, "For all practical purposes, my life began when I moved to western Massachusetts." This may have been one of the reasons why he only stayed for two years Maine's Bowdoin College. He then moved to western Massachusetts where he attended classes at Smith College and, in 1976, finalized his education by earning degree from Hampshire College.

While at Smith College, Hannock apprenticed several years with Leonard Baskin, a sculptor and printmaker, creating anatomical drawings, woodcuts, sculptures and paintings. He often mentioned his apprenticeship with Baskin as "the ultimate art school" and he then began working as a struggling artist from an abandoned factory in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1984, Hannock moved from Northampton, Massachusetts to New York City.
Hannock met his wife, Bridget Watkins and were married in 2000. Their daughter, Georgia, was born in June, 2000. While pregnant, Bridget was troubled by double vision which doctors attributed to her pregnancy. However the visual problems continued after she gave birth and, on September 11, 2001 (as planes flew into the World Trade Center, just down the street from their apartment) Bridget was informed by her neurologist that she had a brain tumor from which she died in October, 2004. Hannock memorialized his wife in a painting entitled Heroic Woman that now hangs at Deerfield Academy which depicted the life she lived during those last three years “as a mother, wife and well as a daughter, sister and friend...was truly heroic."[1] Today, Hannock and his daughter spend their time between Williamstown, Massachusetts and New York City. He is being closely monitored for a degenerative eye condition.

In conclusion, what drew me to this piece of art was the simple, but very complex piece of art. At first glance, the waterfall was just another landscape piece of art until I stepped closer to read what was written on it. That is what captured me – the writing and the intricate details to that text. All seemed to have particular meaning to the painting and to the artist. Hannock drew me into one part of this painting and then drew me into another part by another piece of text and more pictures related to that text. I stood reflecting on one item and then was drawn into another section of the painting and then another. It was amazing how my eyes were taken from one side of the painting to another to another. This painting interested me and after my research on this artist it became apparent that reasoning behind his type of artistry and how he portrayed it all on canvas.

[1]Hannock, Stephen. Luminosity: The Paintings of Stephen Hannock. Introduction by Duncan Christy. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2000, Wikipedia:


  1. Great Jen,

    I knew Dan Hodermarsky very well as he was a teacher at Deefield Academy, where Stephen Hancock attended Prep school (High School). I taught art just up the road from him at the Stoneleigh Burnahm School in the late 1970's His wife, Nancy taught English at my school and his daughters, Maria and Lisa attended as students while I was there. Lisa was a wonderful art student of mine... She is now the Associate curator of Prints and Drawings at Yale Art Gallery... I have been to their home in Blue Hills Maine as well....

    Stephen Hannock is on the leading edge of a new movement to reclaim the craft of realistic painting after more than a century of experimentation with non-objective or abstract art. His work is glowing and luminous. He is unafraid of depicting the natural world with the heart of romanticism or of a romanticist.

    I would love to see more images posted... say a straight on view and then several more details. When a museum owns a piece, you are allowed to photograph it as much as you want as long as the flash is turned off...

    You are off to a great start! Keep up the good work.....

  2. Jen - I really enjoyed reading your paper. When the class first began I thought, "How can I write an entire paper on one piece of art?" but yours is a good example and makes it easier for me to understand.

    That is terrible about his wife :(