By Brian Kluepfel
Rich Hanlon learned to draw as a small boy in Ohio, painting the flames on toy cars for orphans that he spent part of his childhood with.
But if you’re expecting a Dickensian coming-of-age tale, Hanlon is more Artful Dodger than Oliver Twist, always making the best of a situation and relying on his wit and skills to elevate himself, be it as an Army Ranger, Green Beret, sports bar owner or Cadillac hawker to the rich and famous of Greenwich.
After returning to his mother’s care as a pre-teen, Hanlon’s artistic spark remained, doing any number of chores to garner that month’s MAD magazine, which he dutifully replicated in pen and ink (after reading it, of course). Graduating to science fiction/fantasy artist Frank Frazetta’s “Conan” adventure novel covers, Hanlon raised his skills a notch by utilizing quills of different thickness.
“I needed a quill to get those super-fine strokes” of the Conan artist, he said. This period also led him to the use of oil paints, but he admits, “it (was) all trial and error.” That’s a life motto with Hanlon, who says, “I grow with every painting.”
Now retired and living in Pleasantville since 2011, he devotes up to six hours a day to his craft, in a spacious living room centered around a repurposed blueprint table purchased on craigslist for the princely sum of $100. Sometimes, the artwork spills over onto large canvasses stretched out in the garage; he’s graduated from 16-inch-by-20-inch works to a much grander scale.
Some of Hanlon’s art is on display at Pleasantville’s Black Cow through the end of the month. Though he’s done well on the East Coast summer art fair circuit, from Camden, Maine to Cape Cod and Sag Harbor, he hopes to attract a more local following. He credits Black Cow owner Michele Marona for giving him, and other artists, the space to display their talents.
Hanlon’s motivational mantra varies; he sometimes paints to the season, planning some oceanscapes for the coming summer, for example. A recent visit with friends to the Whitney inspired a gift to the Black Cow.
Emerging from the coffee shop one night, Hanlon saw it, quite literally, in a different light, somehow reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s famous depiction of a Chicago diner, “Nighthawks.”
Motivated by the moment, he immediately turned to the old blueprint table on Bedford Road, and a suburban scenario was sketched out. He finished the piece last weekend, presenting it to the shop as a karmic debt for displaying his work. The final product also is a bit of a nod to Van Gogh’s “Terrace at Night.”
Other life experiences have deepened his oeuvre; studying the martial arts opened an interest in Asian pen-and-ink technique, while observing Michelangelo’s statues “really taught me to draw,” he said. A little Seattle grunge like Soundgarden in the background – he was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state as a ranger – helps him crank through the canvases.
Impressionist Claude Monet remains one of Hanlon’s favorites, and one can see the Frenchman’s influence on his deep, textured paintings of trees and the mighty Hudson River. He explained how certain techniques and materials help bring texture to his canvases, but it is an innate sense of color which adds life.
“Look at this tree trunk – that’s 12 different colors!” he points out in one image.
He has always been able to see an object and immediately replicate its color schemes from his varied palette. Now that he has time in his “fourth career,” he dreams of climbing the ladder to reach the greats.
“While I’m alive I’d like to have one of my paintings in a major gallery or art space,” said Hanlon, ever the artful dodger, glancing upward at that next, seemingly insurmountable, level.
Rich Hanlon’s “Light and Movement” is on display at the Black Cow Coffee Company, located at 7 Wheeler Ave. for the remainder of February. You may also view his work at www.richhanlonart.com.
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