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Grit and fire

Urban reality abstracted by Laura Hanan

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Brick & Mortar Gallery has not gone away; it’s just been on a long hiatus. And gallery owner Laura Hanan has been hard at work on a fascinating series of paintings that she will present at Art Walk today.

Talk about Grit City, Hanan has taken photographs of the grittiest of the gritty — drug dealers dealing in alleyways, drunks pissing on walls, fires aflame in the city — and turned them into beautiful abstract paintings in which only the tiniest hint of her source material remains. 

Hanan describes the work as “a culmination of my two-year obsessive quest using a crappy old video camera to fight ongoing criminal activity in my neighborhood.

“For a period of time I couldn’t look out of my living room window without seeing a drug deal or people brazenly smoking crack on the sidewalk across from my apartment in downtown Tacoma.

Out of frustration I began videotaping the antisocial and illegal activities I regularly witnessed, and I sent mass e-mails of the visual documentation to the police, city leaders, business owners, and residents.”


Hanan said she started experimenting with the huge visual volume on crime she had amassed. She manipulated still images from her videos, had them commercially printed on canvas, cut the images into jagged shards, rearranged them and pasted them onto larger canvases, which she had partially painted by slinging threads of black paint à la Jackson Pollock, and then she painted back into them and finished them off by mounting them on black boards (more slung paint) and framing them. 

The resulting images are powerful representations of the underbelly of Tacoma that are equally arresting as abstract arrangements of shapes and colors.


I last saw Hanan’s paintings four years ago. At that time she was doing large and very busy abstract paintings with bright colors and gritty textures and with shapes delineated — as they still are in her latest paintings — by Pollock-like splatters of black paint. The difference in her latest works is that they are built from recognizable photographic images and the designs are much more coherent. This is not to say that they are not nerve jangling, just as her earlier paintings were, but they are nerve jangling in a more controlled way. The parts are more unified — even if they are unified in the way of jagged shards of glass crammed together into broken-mirror images.


Also, the colors and textures — first created on a computer and then painted over — are rich and dense with areas that look to be spray painted (they’re not) and areas of collaged textures. There are patches of blue sky between buildings that are unusually brilliant and dark and velvety greens and reds. In a very few of the paintings there are colors that are slightly too harsh. Her reds and yellows in particular tend to be too raw, but the dark greens and purples and all that deep, deep black are marvelous. As corny as it may sound, the colors in these paintings remind me (in a good way) of paintings on black velvet. And the paint, which is acrylic, looks more like enamel.


As an added bonus, Hanan will be showing some of the photographs that were used as starting points for these paintings, which will give the viewer an opportunity to see how they developed.

The photograph printed here is one of the pictures she cut up and reassembled and painted. The final version is quite different, but you will have to visit Brick & Mortar to see for yourself.

[Brick & Mortar Gallery, Crime & Punishment, opens Nov. 20, 5-9 p.m. and by appointment through Dec. 31, 811 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.591.2787]

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