‘Painting the Novel’: ’20 Books = 20 Paintings’

Ashley Hanson’s painterly responses to the novel showcase the fluidity of ideas across genres and the frisson and ambiguities between fact and fiction, information and imagination, ideas and process, 'map-truth’ and painting-truth. His colour-saturated interactions between the visual and written worlds, structured on place, are packed with intrigue and subversions of scale, with an inventive interplay between narrative, incident, image and the formalities of painting.

Alongside works inspired by Paul Auster’s ‘City of Glass’, Don de Lillo’s ‘Underworld’, and John Boyne’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, at the core of the exhibition is his recent project, ’20 Books=20 Paintings’ series, sourced in crime-fiction from around the world. ’20 Books=20 Paintings’ celebrates the act of reading, the twin canvas-format referencing the physicality of books, of holding, of turning pages. But these are paintings, books that don’t close. In the spirit of the crime-fiction genre, there are pointers to the identity of the source novels within each piece, in the disguised imagery, in the palette and titles. In the run up to the exhibition, more 'clues' will be released on a daily basis, allowing viewers to become a detective themselves in identifying the inspiration for each painting, with a prize of a painting from a crime-novel of their choice to whoever makes the most correct guesses. The source novels and prizewinner will be revealed on the opening day of the exhibition.

‘Viewer, the choice is yours. However you wish to 'read' these paintings, my hope is that they engage and intrigue you, as independent purely visual entities, working on the senses or with their literary links providing additional layers of interest. Or both. The pleasures of looking...’

‘Painting the Novel’ came to the forefront of Ashley Hanson’s practice with the ‘City of Glass’ series, 63 paintings in 6 years responding to ‘City of Glass’ from Paul Auster’s ‘The New York Trilogy’, ‘my way into the impossibility of painting New York’. Alongside paintings that follow the breadth of the novel’s explorations of identity and chance and the central image of a new Babel in New York, (’The tower would be large enough to hold every inhabitant of the New World…’), there is a shift in scale, to pieces devoted to a single letter of the alphabet, interpreting the idea of invisible letters and words hidden in the grid pattern of the streets. ‘I took Paul Auster’s ‘fictional’ idea further and by scouring ‘real’ maps of Manhattan and Google Earth I eventually found the fifteen letters that spell T.H.E.T.O.W.E.R.O.F.B.A.B.E.L., letters that are there but not there, only if you look’.

Since its inception, the series has received widespread attention, with ‘City of Glass 1’ joint prize-winner in the Canvas & Cream Art Prize, London in 2013. This has been followed by three solo exhibitions and numerous selections and shortlistings for national competitions/open selections including the RA Summer Exhibition, Wells Art Contemporary, The Discerning Eye, the Ludlow Open, Lacey Contemporary and National Open Art.

The written word, whether as source material for his paintings or in his own written thoughts and analysis on his Blog, is now a fundamental focus of Ashley Hanson’s process. Words provoke images, which in turn can encourage a written response. Ashley’s Blogposts of ‘City of Glass’, have themselves become a physical book – a catalogue - which Ashley forwarded to author Paul Auster in New York. He was thrilled to receive the following response:

Dear Mr. Hanson,
Incredibly moved by your magnificent paintings. They are strong and
beautiful -- and haunting. To think that my book could have inspired such
vivid colors. I am very happy.
All best thoughts to you,
Paul Auster

Born in Blackpool in 1960, Ashley initially studied architecture in Manchester before deciding to be a painter after seeing a Peter Lanyon retrospective at the Whitworth Art Gallery. He graduated from Canterbury College of Art (Fine Art BA, 1st Class) in 1983 before moving to London. Ashley showed with the London Group, and was awarded 2nd Prize in the Hunting Art Prizes. In 1993 he participated in a Triangle Artists Workshop in New York, hosted by Sir Anthony Caro. In 1997 he was a recipient of a Boise Travel Scholarship from the Slade, which resulted in his ‘Americascapes’ series inspired by a series of train journeys across the US. The series was shown at the Morley and Woodlands galleries in London and as a solo exhibition at the Michael West Gallery, IOW.

Now living in Cornwall, Ashley is a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists. In 2018 he took part in ‘Discovery: Contemporary Art Perspectives from England’ at the Agora Gallery, New York and in 2019 had a solo exhibition ‘Cololourscapes’ at the Heseltine Gallery in Cornwall. He has an extensive national exhibition record including Linden Hall Studio, Modern Artists Gallery, Belgrave St. Ives, the Campden Gallery, Edgar Modern, and Thomson’s Gallery, London.