Kendal Hanna’s Rainbow Explosion
Finding self through abstraction…
Kendal Hanna, a Bahamian artist and forerunner of abstract painting, brilliantly captures energetic expression and emotion through the intense repetition of line exemplified in Untitled (Rainbow Explosion). Hanna has masterfully engaged in his medium, stretching its ability to exist both boldly and lightly, from heavy black in the foreground to a luminous yellow in the background. Splatters surrounding the composition and within provide insight into the craftsmanship of the work, leaving signs of active brushwork –one can imagine Hanna physically engaging with the paper, paintbrush and paint with high energy, working confidently as his subconscious mind expresses itself on the paper.
Hanna was diagnosed with schizophrenia early on in his life, a mental disorder affecting the way in which a person thinks, feels and acts. They may have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. Hanna was said to work primarily in black and white until after his treatment when he began experimenting and working with color more extensively. The abstract aesthetic illustrated in Hanna’s work may also correspond with his experience of non-reality, shining a light on his remarkable ability to experiment non-objectively through his art practice.
Influenced by Abstract Expressionism, Hanna’s work sits in dialogue with revolutionary artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Willem de Kooning, to name a few. De Kooning often left his works with a sense of dynamic incompletion, as if the work was still in process. The paintings embodied the term ‘action painting’- proof of the high-energy physical work that went into its creation. Similarly, Hanna’s work exemplifies a process-oriented development rather than the finished traditional work of fine painting. Pollock known as “Jack the Dripper” engaged with his canvas in the non-traditional way of flinging paint as he stood over the massive canvas on the floor. He engaged in the paintings through physical movement, and each mark exemplified the high energy process of which he worked. Rauschenberg engaged in physical mark making, as well, and was quoted to saying that he wanted to work “in the gap between art and life”, comparable to Hanna’s struggle with schizophrenia and being an artist.
Hanna was also widely influenced by artist John St. John, an American abstract painter whose works of cities, mountains, trees and sea were carried from reality through to abstraction, to almost non-objectivity. St. John primarily worked with a painting knife, constructing chaotic compositions with highly dynamic gestural marks and color. Many describe his work as capturing the feeling of light while conveying a sense of space. Untitled (Rainbow Explosion) similarly displays a harmony with color and space. Although non-objective, one may imagine a foreground and a background suggested through high contrasted color, providing a sense of order within chaos, and perhaps a sense of reality within non-reality.
At the top left of the painting, the viewer may experience a series of vertical repeated lines in black, rapidly leading the eye from left to centre. Orange and blue sit quietly between each heavy line, complimenting each other as they do, providing a contrast against the heaviness that is black. The eye is interrupted halfway through with a circular, organic form that feels quickly constructed through its imperfection– it is not fully filled in nor is it perfectly circular– one may imagine a moment where Hanna had paused and allowed the paint to seep into the paper, leaving evidence of the intermission. It rests the eye until it continues again to the right of the painting, where a diagonal line intervenes and leads us down towards the center of the work.
The centre feels the heaviest, a spot that slows down the eye until it is woken up again by a swift intrusion of white. Two white marks, subtle and stark allow a sense of contrast to break up the composition. It provides proof of a foreground within the disorder, and one can distinguish the placement of the orange, blue and yellow from the black and white. We are then led onwards, towards the bottom left of the composition to find another circular shape, coated with a series of white lines that provides visual texture.
We are shuttled out from the left corner back towards the centre of the work by a cone-like form composed of two black lines encompassing an ocean of more blue and orange, tangled together like a series of webs. Watery drips line the surface of the paper, emphasizing materiality and the process-based nature of the work.
Untitled (Rainbow Explosion) reminds me of art critic Clement Greenberg’s idea of art for art’s sake, the idea that the painting is the art object, and that its underlying theme rests in an expression of material. The works of many contemporary artists living and working today epitomize this same ideology, and celebration, if you will, of the process of art making as their artworks content. Greenberg felt that abstract work had the ability to create in-depth thinking and questioning, a skill that one would benefit from in thinking on a larger scale, within their communities and ultimately in the world. This work inspires deeper investigation and contemplation, an enlightening experience for the viewer.
By Natascha Vasquez
The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas
Published in The Nassau Guardian, Arts & Culture
February 11, 2017