Uncovering the mysteries of London, NY-style

Story by Jack Foley

'The most fruitful course of study lies in the persistent effort to render the majic and poetry of London, the most wonderful and complex city in the world.'
Walter Sickert 1889

AN UNSEEN, mystical and frequently romantic side of London is captured in a new exhibition by American artist Duncan Hannah, which opens at The Charlotte Street Gallery in London on Thursday, May 9, until Saturday, June 1, 2002.

Entitled 'The Mysteries of London', the exhibition is an affectionate look at our great city by an American who has come to love it.

Duncan Hannah was born in Minneapolis in 1952 and first travelled to Europe as a boy. He has returned frequently since, but cites London as one of his favourite cities.

Educated at Bard College and Parsons School of Design, Hannah has lived and worked in New York City since 1973, while also acting in several films, including Unmade Beds (1976) and Art for Teachers (1995).

He has observed supernatural phenomenon on at least five occasions and his work (which can be quite profound) is in major collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Speaking of his passion for the capital, Hannah says that he aims to experience 'something of the spell London can work as one strolls through deserted streets on a quiet summer's evening, something of the brooding phantasy hidden in its stones'.

He freely admits that London has called to him since his childhood in the 1950s in Mid-Western America.

" I started visiting in 1967, catching the waning days of the Carnaby Street era," he explains on the Charlotte Street Gallery website, part of the Rebecca Hossack Gallery. "Even after I moved to New York City in 1973 to be an artist, I felt a greater identification with the other side of the Atlantic.

" I continued to immerse myself in English painting, music, literature and film. Casting about for a romantic world for my semi-narrative paintings, I found that Great Britain would answer most of my needs. The sense of distance was helpful to me, allowing me to concoct a personal 20th Century mythology."

The exhibition at Charlotte Street consists of a series of small paintings focusing on a very subjective London, a capital Hannah lovingly refers to as 'my London'.

"Although these are portrayals of a city, and contain facts of locations, they also have ingredients of fiction, possibilities of stories, lost places and other times I have projected myself into," he explains. "I've wandered into the brick heart of the city in the company of ghostly guides such as Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Machen, The Camden Town Group, The Euston Road School, Alfred Hitchcock (before he left home), Bill Brandt, Algernon Newton, Roger Mayne, The Kinks, The Smiths, Iain Sinclair, etc.

"I hope the results are seen as a personal homage and not as a cultural trespass; for indeed it was done as a valentine."

Certainly, his artwork captures some of the enduring images of London with a fond nostalgia reserved for the type of tourist who just has to return to the capital. Take, for instance, the images on this page (which form part of the collection); images which capture some of London's institutions, from the businessmen waiting for a Tube on London's famed Underground (in this case, Notting Hill Gate, above) and the distinctive red, double-decker bus and classic cars (depicted on the right).

Whether this misty-eyed romanticism appeals to hard-nosed Londoners remains to be seen, however, although art lovers are advised to pay a visit to Charlotte Street to judge for themselves. At the very least, 'The Mysteries of London' should provide a brief reminder of why London is such a great place to live and why it remains one of the most popular cities in the world.

As a spokesman for the Charlotte Street Gallery rightly told Indielondon: "It is just the kind of romantic burst to our city us tired Londoners could do with."

The Charlotte Street Gallery, 28 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 2NA
Tel: 020 7255 2828 Fax: 020 7580 2828

Three Great Australians. Click here
Rebecca Hossack uncovered, gallery details. Click here