Half a lifetime ago I was, very briefly, a security guard/gallery attendant at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. They’d taken on extra staff for a big Post-Impressionist exhibition. First thing in the morning, you had to be at your place ten minutes before the public were allowed in, so for that very brief period of time you found yourself alone pacing up and down in a gallery of, say, priceless Van Goghs. And as you paced it was very possible to imagine that you were some kind of supervillain, and these Van Goghs were yours and yours alone. And funnily enough something very slighty similar happened to me at the weekend in Los Angeles.
I went to the Parker Gallery to see an exhibition by Duncan Hannah, top quality painter, and author of a newish memoir titled Twentieth-Century Boy which is getting masses of attention, and according to its publisher is a “rollicking and vividly immediate account of his life amid the city's glamorous demimondes in their most vital era as an aspiring artist, roaring boy, dandy, cultural omnivore, and far-from-obscure object of desire.” And if you can’t trust Penguin Random House, who can you trust?
I checked a map – the gallery was walking distance from where I live, maybe a forty minute walk in each direction. Easy. On the other hand, the map showed the gallery apparently to be in the middle of a very posh suburban enclave, the kind of place that I’m pretty sure isn’t zoned for commercial enterprises. Ah well, that would be interesting in itself.
I checked the weather and it promised to be warm though not punishingly so, but I set off walking and discovered the forecast was wrong. It wasn’t just warm but scorching, and by the time I got to the gallery I felt like a mad, sweaty dog. Incidentally, Duncan Hannah these days looks like such a cool customer I can’t imagine he ever sweats at all:
Doesn't look as though he perspired all the much in earlier years either:
|PHOTO BY FERNANDO NATALICI|
And yes the Parker Gallery is indeed in a suburban enclave, in fact it’s inside a mock Tudor mansion, and the casual gallery visitor would surely be deterred by the prospect of walking up that driveway and knocking on the door, which I suppose is the point.
But I am made of sterner stuff. I went up, rang the front door bell, and a very pleasant art gallery girl let me in, and I saw the Duncan Hannah exhibition which was terrific.
I was all alone, there were no other visitors, and I was able to recreate my Van Gogh moment, walking through the rooms at the Parker pretending these Hannah paintings were mine, all mine. It was rather a good feeling.
Hannah’s paintings are often both narrative and figurative (a tricky furrow to plow in this day and age), all calm surface but with a hint of inscrutable menace. Something not quite right may have just happened, or may be about to happen but you don’t know what or why. This is a particular favorite titled “Man Wrongfully Accused.”
A fellow traveler tells me that the setting is almost certainly Finchingfield, in Essex, and he's surely right, but I don't know what significance that has.
You'll note the absence of cars in the painting, but Hannah is really good with classic cars, such as this Karmann Ghia:
Want to see an old twentieth-century picture of your scribe with his Karmann Ghia? – Course you do. (NB I'm well aware that I was no Duncan Hannah looks-wise, but then, few are).
I had a vague plan that after seeing the exhibition I might walk on and have a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis-Brown house, which was not a million miles away, but it was too damn hot, and the route to the house was all up hill, so I went the other way, and I saw this, perhaps the most rigorously minimalist garden I've seen in a good long time. Painterly.