Recast is a body of over 100 drawings of statues, which Hanley started making on a residency in The Ballinglen Arts Foundation and then worked on during the years of lockdown in his home studio on the North Strand in Dublin. Drawn from photos, thumbnails and notes of hundreds of statues he encountered over two decades of travel, this is his largest body of work to date.
These statues are beautiful things to behold and often command pride of place in public settings. Yet they are frequently overlooked, half-forgotten and/or, in worst case scenarios, actively vilified and torn down. It has certainly been in the air recently to relook at these immutable monuments to the past — a time to recast, as Hanley has been doing all this time.
He is attracted to these classical figures first as ready-mades. He gets the rub of the relic by faithfully rendering their modest or majestic poses, then he makes gently comic or satirical interventions, whatever the rhetoric of the figure suggests. Sometimes it’s minimal. Sometimes it’s more complex. The gift of this, cast of thousands, to the artist is that he can play with the panoply of the past without calling foul on any individual subject.
Hanley usually does not note the historical figure, looking with fresh eyes only to invent and to make art, not to judge or condemn. He appreciates these statues’ intrinsic beauty and the skill that has gone into creating them while he repurposes their physical entities to tell his own tales. Tipping his hat to the great sculptors of the past, Recast is ultimately a series of works which could not exist without them.
James Hanley was born in Dublin in 1965. He is a graduate of UCD and the NCAD and spent an influential Erasmus exchange at the Glasgow School of Art in 1990. He works in a representational style in both drawing and painting and has exhibited widely in solo and group shows.
An established portrait painter, Hanley has painted close to 180 official and private portraits. He has designed Christmas stamps for An Post as well as a commemorative series on playwrights, and in 2006 he designed the coin to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Office of Public Works. In 1996, he accompanied the Defence Forces to Bosnia and Croatia to research for a painting to mark their work in the former Yugoslavia. In 2004, he was commissioned to paint a large work to commemorate the centenary of the Abbey Theatre Dublin.
Hanley is represented in many public, corporate and private collections including the National Gallery of Ireland, IMMA, the Arts Council/An Comhairle Ealaíon, UL, UCD, AIB, the Defence Forces and Queens University Belfast.
From 1999 to 2004 he was a member of the Cultural Relations Committee at the Dept of Foreign Affairs, the body responsible for financing Irish art, music, theatre and literature events abroad. He was elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts in 2000, serving as Secretary and Keeper.
He was elected to Aosdána, the affiliation of Irish artists, in 2008 and to the board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery in 2009, serving two terms.
He currently serves on the board of Business to Arts and has been a trustee of the Thomas Dammann Junior Memorial Trust since 2004, helping artists and art historians fund specific projects. He has also written about art and artists for a number of publications over the years. He has been an artist in residence at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1997, at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris in 2007 and most recently at the Ballinglen Art Foundation in 2019.
He is married to Órla Dukes and lives and works in Dublin.
All words by James Hanley.