Words play as big a role as colour or imagery in Jonny Hannah’s art, and they’re leading him into uncharted territory in his latest venture, a genre-bending installation called Darktown
Storytellers come in all shapes and sizes. They can be poets crafting their words to the tightest technical spec, musicians setting their words to a melody, even dancers using their bodies to act out a narrative. The one thing that connects them is words.
Artist, illustrator, designer and printmaker Jonny Hannah has created just one print in the last 15 years that didn’t include words. It felt completely out of character – so much so that his wife, Sharon, told him she didn’t like it. All of Hannah’s work comes with words. It’s not that he has a crucial message to pass on through his art. It’s simply that he is a graphic artist and, to him, placing words and pictures together has always been second nature.
It began with Korky the Cat and Dunfermline. Hannah was brought up in the Fife town and his childhood was set against a backdrop of protests, pit closures and political instability. But he was busy drawing Korky, then Desperate Dan and the Dandy clan; copying them, perfecting them, allowing them to fuel his imagination so he could create his own, new characters. “I didn’t really read books until I was in my 20s,” he admits. “I just read The Dandy and The Beano. The idea that words and pictures went together just made perfect sense to me.”
Hannah enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art but his time there was brief. He was too young, too immature, he says, and he left. Kicking about the city for the next three years turned out to be the best thing he could have done. “I played in a band. It was the early ’90s. We were post-punk. On a good day, you could compare us to The Clash,” he laughs. Music is at the heart of everything he does. It permeates his pages and plays endlessly in his garden shed studio as he works.
“I knew I had to go back to education and Liverpool seemed exciting to me,” he recalls. “It’s a city built on music so that really appealed.” At Liverpool School of Art and Design Hannah was tutored by practising illustrators and graphic designers who showed him how to be an artist but also earn a living from his work.
From there, he did an MA at the RCA and met the animator Jonathan Hodgson. He asked Hannah to work with him on a short film for Channel 4. Hannah drew and drew and drew, creating 12 drawings for every second of the six-minute film. The Man with the Beautiful Eyes – an adaptation of a Charles Bukowski poem – won the 2000 Bafta for Best Short Animation.
You can browse the complete article with more stunning photography on pages 185-188, issue 97.
Words Catherine Coyle