The Real Thing, currently showing at Carrick Hill, is the third exhibition of Robert (“Alfie”) Hannaford’s works that curator John Neylon has worked on but he believes he has only just scratched the surface.
The exhibition, Natural Eye, also at Carrick Hill, was the first to survey Hannaford’s work, covering all the genres from early days right through, while the second was the regional touring exhibition, Open Studio. The latest exhibition, The Real Thing, focuses on the artist’s still-lifes. “When the opportunity came along to do one on still-lifes, it struck me that here is a chance to swing the attention away from the default perspective of Hannaford as a portrait artist,” explains Neylon, who writes for the Adelaide Review. “It was a sign on the road to say let’s consider Hannaford from another direction altogether.” Hannaford has positioned himself as one as Australia’s pre-eminent portrait artists, winning the Doug Moran Portrait Prize in 1990 and being an Archibald Prize finalist on many occasions since 1991. However, as this exhibition reveals, that’s only part of the story. “The exhibition contains new work that has never been exhibited before, and more familiar works in a fresh context,” says Neylon. “I tried, in the selection and in the hang, to represent what I call the heartland of the artist’s practice.” The works include portraits and figures but mainly focus on objects. “For Hannaford, everything is essentially an object, be it a face, a figure, rock, creature or a building,” Neylon says. “If it stays still long enough, it will be closely observed and its inner life revealed.” Neylon has hung works like a study of crawling ivy next to a drawing of a sheep’s skeleton – works that, in terms of their subject matter, are out of classification. Neylon explains, “What I want to say is that for Hannaford, it’s not the object so much as it’s the intrigue that he brings to the idea of scrutinising natural forms. He doesn’t distinguish between a skeleton or a plant.” By hanging works like the large painting, The Eagle, alongside a still-life of sun flowers Neylon has brought out connections between the works that might not have otherwise been evident. “I realised the actual seed heads on the sunflower and the way the leaves were curling mirrored or amplified the feathering on the edge, the articulation of the wings of the bird itself,” Neylon says. The Real Thing includes paintings that highlight Hannaford’s technical skills as he presents simple, everyday objects like fruit, flowers, plants, trees and a range of household and farm items in a very precise way. The exhibition reflects the idea of a visual interrogation of the subject – as Hannaford says, his art is mostly about “the thing seen, the thing in itself”. Neylon also presents a number of sketches and drawings, which were often made on the run, reflecting the idea that Hannaford is always looking at the world around him, no matter what the subject is. “On a day-to-day basis he’s got his sketch book out and he is scrutinising everything around him. He does so in a very intense way,” says Neylon. It’s the intensity and authenticity with which he approaches his practice that gives it such integrity. Self-taught, Hannaford instilled these principles in himself early on and has continued to maintain a high quality in his work all the way through his career. “He taught himself to be true to the subject and to be ruthless in his methodology. If a drawing wasn’t good enough he did it again and again and again,” says Neylon. The Real Thing introduces audiences to the range of subjects Hannaford has explored over the years, providing the chance to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of his work. It shows Hannaford as an intensely disciplined craftsman whose body of work extends beyond his most popular genre of portrait painting. The Real Thing Carrick Hill Continues until Sunday, June 28 carrickhill.sa.gov.au Images: Mainland from Kangaroo Island (detail), 1998, oil on board Self Portrait (detail), 1977, oil on board