Represented by the international Marlbourgh Galleries, Stephen Hannock is among the foremost landscape painters of his generation, with a twist. Uniquely, he adds text and collaged images to often large, panoramic paintings. 

These are layered then sanded down and built up again. Up close one can read the surfaces that give ever greater context to the images. A frequent flyer he goes on site to sketch for works and commissions later developed in the studio. This has taken him to Norway and the Arctic Circle. Inspired by Luminist, Thomas Cole, he has created a number of versions of the Oxbow in the Connecticut River near Northampton. 

Currently, he is working to finish a twenty-foot wide view of Niagara’s American Falls. It will be the only work for an upcoming exhibition in New York Marlborough Gallery. He rented a boat that is companion to Maid of the Mist which hovered under the falls while he sketched. He has worked on the panorama for a number of years off and on.

“Nobody paints moving water like me” he exclaimed animating the action exuberantly with both hands.

Recently, we met for sushi in North Adams as we do from time-to-time. There are updates on his peripatetic lifestyle and practice. He had just returned from a West Coast swing visiting the Portland Art Museum which is acquiring a work. The director is a fellow graduate of Bowdoin College. He made a number of stops to meet with collectors and museums commissioning and planning acquisitions.  

The upcoming gallery show with a single work represents a new approach moving forward. It’s a step back from the pressure of having regular exhibitions. The intention is to have more time in the studio fully to develop works in a less pressured and manageable manner. That includes time for a personal life with his daughter, Georgia, a recent graduate of University of Vermont. 

There are always projects going on. A book of hand-printed woodcuts, an edition of 75, which includes an original painting, hit many snags is nearing publication. He has gone back to creating black light works like those he experimented with early in his career. There is a stained glass window project which has been a learning curve.

“It’s a project for the St. Andrews Dune Church, in Southampton, New York,” he said “It was postponed in order to construct a bulwark to protect the church. We started the project again five years ago before the pandemic. My ideas were brought to life by the Benturella Studio in New York. 

“There are Tiffany, LaFarge and other artists’ work in the church and I added a contemporary piece. The Metropolitan Museum has published a book on the windows. The landscape vocabulary of most of the 19th century windows was derived from the Hudson River School. I wanted to contribute a window with the vocabulary of the landscape from the east end of Long Island.” 

Years ago, Stephen opted to close down a New York studio and move to the Berkshires. While that gets him out of the art world rat race he is close enough to the Albany airport. Part of the strategy, as a single dad, was having a better environment to raise his daughter. Georgia lost her mother, Bridget, when she was four. 

“Because I didn’t have a grown up job” he said “I was able to be there for her on a moment’s notice. She is doing great living with roommates in Vermont and working at a restaurant.” 

While I am grounded to covering the arts in the Berkshires, with great range, insight and energy, Stephen provides eyes and ears to the world. Conversation turned to his friend Bill (Belichick) and the dilemma of the 2 and 5 Patriots. He provided a brilliant break down of the current crisis of the team.

That stems from his deep love of sports.  His dad was a semi-pro hockey goalie and Stephen played goalie in college.  Also, he competed at a world class level as a Frisbee player. It was hilarious to hear about that. 

As a couple of duffers there was the inevitable organ music. He has had hip replacements exacerbated by all those sprawling hockey saves. Also he suffers the equivalent of macular degeneration in one eye. In the studio he wears a lab coat given to him by his doctor. 

Whatever life throws at him Stephen is in the net stopping the pucks. In all he does there is energized full on attack. Perhaps it is time to lay back and steadily create master works.

Studio Visit

It had been some time, pre pandemic, since I had visited the studio. In the midst of which I had spinal surgery from which I am steadily recovering. On a Friday afternoon, accompanied by my wife, Astrid Hiemer, it was a challenge to ascend to the third floor. 

We viewed work in three separate studios. Other spaces are used for storage. 

The primary objective was to view the final stages of a 20’ panorama of the American and Canadian falls at Niagara. The work had been exhibited 20 years ago but he was relieved that it did not sell as he felt it was not yet finished. 

Apparently, because of gallery pressure to show and sell, this was not a unique instance. That has resulted in his decision not to have a schedule of regular exhibitions. Unlike artists at his level only Hannock produces the work and that takes time. For many years David Lachman has managed the studio.

The Niagara panorama will be shown at Marlborough Gallery in New York this coming January. So that equates to a couple of months of intensive work until then. It breaks down to five panels that are crated and shipped separately. 

From a distance we view the entire work and then come forward to absorb the embedded details. He has taken the notion that “every picture tells a story” to another level. In a sense, the subject speaks to him which he then conveys to the viewer. 

Often this takes the form of homage to, in this instance, collaged reproductions of prior artists who have painted the falls. They are visible at the bottom of the cascading water on the American falls depicted in front and on the left. 

There are always a number of projects in varying stages of development. In the first studio, under a Wayne Gretzky hockey shirt, there was a salon-style cluster of easel-scaled pieces.

There were several stages at varying scale from a series inspired by Ophelia  an 1851-52 painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais in the collection of Tate Britain, London. It depicts Ophelia, a character from William Shakespeare ‘s play Hamlet, singing before she drowns in a river.

Ophelia was painted along the banks of the Hogsmill River in Surrey, near Tolworth. The scene is located at Six Acre Meadow, alongside Church Road, Old Malden. As a member of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, Millais adhered to the dictum of John Ruskin regarding “truth to nature.” 

The painting was created in two stages. He worked plein air up to 11 hours a day, six days a week, over a five-month period in 1851. He then placed the model, a 19-year-old artist, model and muse, Elizbeth Siddal, fully clothed in a bath tub. Lanterns were intended to warm the water but while busy working the artist failed to note when they burned out. She suffered pneumonia and her father sued to cover medical bills. 

We were shown several studies and larger works from the series. Hannock has worked in a manner similar to that of Millais starting with the landscape then collaging over it reproductions of his painting. There are other versions collaging a photo mural by Gregory Crewdson who resides in the Berkshires. For that image he created a room in MASS MoCA that was then flooded. The model was immersed in that elaborate set. Fortunately, the water was heated.

There were phases of other projects. He showed us a study for a panorama of Cleveland bisected by the Cuyahoga River which feeds into Lake Erie. There were targeted points locating schools and cultural institutions. Several years ago he created a major Newcastle, England panorama. It was created in honor of his mate, Sting, who was born there. In tribute to Thomas Cole he is adding a “Course of Empire” series of Newcastle panoramas. 

Cole was the inspiration for a deconstruction of his “The Titan’s Goblet” (Metropolitan Museum of Art.) The source painting depicts a small lake at the top of an enormous chalice set in nature. Hannock’s fanciful version deconstructs that image. To reflect the weight of the goblet the painting is framed in bronze. Lifting it he exclaimed that it is very heavy. So, literally, gravity has become a part of the work. 

The final phase of our visit proved to be spectacular. We were escorted into a room in which the windows were blocked. Before us was a scrawly painting from 1974. With normal lighting it made no sense. They were turned off and black light switched on.

Presto change-o! With magical impact what had been smudges of paint were transformed into a fantastical landscape with psychedelic sky. Stephen laughed when commenting that I had seen this before, but not since the 1960s. 

As our eyes adjusted to black light more detail emerged. He explained that the technology was much improved and pragmatic. He handed us a container of the pigment that proved to be dense and heavy. 

“Isn’t the material fugitive” I asked. “It is” he responded and that the vintage painting had been properly stored. A number of small works sold at the time have not fared well. Lachman pointed to a large canvas with the first step of sketching in the design “It’s a river in France.” 

With sanguine enthusiasm, Hannock discussed plans to create a touring black light installation. The intent is to have music, live and recorded, as part of the experience. There was a playful twinkle as he alluded to musicians who might participate.

It conjured an updated Magical Mystery Tour. 

What follows is an earlier interview.

Interview 2012

Charles Giuliano I am looking at two large drawings one of which is the Flatiron Building in New York and the other a view of a park. Is this a change in the work from landscapes to cityscapes?

Stephen Hannock That’s Madison Square Park and Bridget’s Garden which the city built in honor of my wife. She was a key person in the restoration of Madison Square Park.

(Bridget Watkins Hannock died in 2004 at the age of 40.)

She was one of the point people for raising the money to have the restoration done. When (restaurateur) Danny Meyer bought the property which became 11 Madison Park it was a shooting gallery. Madison Square Park was a pit. He said we have to clean it up and Bridget (who worked for Meyer) said we have to do this and this. It snowballed much the way the High Line resembles what she did with Madison Square Park.

CG What was her background for that?

SH Nothing. She was Danny’s assistant and PR director. Danny and Tom Colicchio. He’s the chef. They started Gramercy Tavern (42 East 20th Street). Now he runs Craft (47 East 19th Street) and Colicchio and Sons (85 Tenth Avenue). He’s the lead judge and producer of Top Chef. He has a big presence in this movie.

What most people miss is that when I was having my first show in the big leagues (Salander O’Reilly) they were starting Gramercy Tavern. He brought Danny up to see my work.

They made a break from tradition. The best restaurants would finish the space and then put art on the walls. They put me together with the architect before the space was even designed.  These are the most recent works and they will go in 11 Madison. I have large paintings there already but we’re skipping twenty years so let’s back track a bit.

I’ve been working with the architect Peter Bentel on every space. When Danny went to make Blue Smoke and 11 Madison Park, Tom went on to make Craft. He won the James Beard Award for Craft. It has to do with designing food in its simplest form. Just a little olive oil and you prepare it with the finest ingredients. It’s sensational.

Each of these spaces required different work. That’s what Peter and I would be doing. We have done a dozen spaces so far. When we were doing 11 Madison Park Danny took me over to the foundation of the Met Life building. It’s like a giant, thirty story bunker. It was going to be 149 stories. That was 1929. What happened in 1929? There was an economic meltdown. So they stopped it right there. Danny actually opened two restaurants at the same time on that first floor space.

CG Meyer was featured in the film The Restaurateur by Roger Sherman that was screened during Williamstown Film Festival last year.

SH There was a still of our wedding in that film. Bridget and I met when Danny was showing me the space. I had talked with her on the phone for a year or so. When he brought me to see the space he asked if his assistant could come along. She was just gliding all over. Of course I didn’t hear a word he was saying.

I did two 25 foot paintings for the restaurant and we got married in that space.

(As Tom Collichio told me at WFF  ”Both Danny and I love art so we spoke about having art in the restaurants. People come to eat but you may as well fill the restaurant with beautiful objects as well. You can take in more than just a meal. Also we were trying to do something that was very personal to us. We went about collecting items that were personal and we wanted in our restaurants.”

Stephen Hannock with Niagara panorama. Giuliano photo

Two more months of work before Niagara will be shown at Marlborough in January. Giuliano

Works hung salon style in the studio. Giuliano

The artist discusses the work. Giuliano

A study for the Cleveland series. Giuliano

Recent History of the Art in Champlain Valley. Courtesy Hannock.

Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais.

Gregory Crewdson flooded a MASS MoCA gallery to stage Ophelia. Courtesy Hannock.

Ophelia Rising Through Morning Fog. Courtesy Hannock.

Ophelia Rising Through Indigo Rainbow. Courtesy Hannock.

Titan's Goblet by Thomas Cole. Metropolitan Museum.

 

Hannock's Goblet framed in bronze

Cole's Oxbow.

Hannock's Oxbow. Courtesy the artist.

Course of Empire (Newcastle) inspired by Cole. Courtesy photo.

Mural III Phosphorescent acrylic, 1974, Courtesy photo.

Mural III Seen in White Light 1974, Giuliano photo.

Mural under black light. Giuliano

NY Restaurateur Danny Meyer. Giuliano

Hannock with chef Tom Collichio. Giuliano

Hannock created work for their restaurants. Giuliano

Panorama of the Highline hung in Collichio & Sons. Courtesy photo.

Wolfram Hissen filmed Dreamscape a documentary on Hannock. Giuliano photo.

CG (Looking at the drawings pinned to the studio wall) Is there going to be text on these?

SH There already is. I finished them last month. The kids who were running 11 Madison Park, Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara, bought it from Danny. Doing three star (Michelin) or four star (New York Times) restaurants is not what Danny wants to do but it’s what they were striving for. They wanted to redo the restaurant and asked for these new paintings. What you can’t tell from the drawings is that they were all ground in reverse. I have an iridescent white paint on the foundation. That’s sealed. Then I painted different grays in layers which I grind down with power tools to get the illuminations. You don’t see any brush strokes. It’s all scraping and grinding. This one “Bridget’s Garden” has text. There’s a sign there which tells the story.

(11 Madison is now vegetarian. As NYT critic Peter Wells reported on August 23, 2023, “Almost none of the main ingredients taste quite like themselves in the 10-course, $335 menu the restaurant unwrapped this June after a 15-month pandemic hiatus. Some are so obviously standing in for meat or fish that you almost feel sorry for them.

“We should have seen something like this coming when Mr. Humm announced the animal-free policy in May. Eleven Madison Park is one of the most closely watched restaurants on the planet, drawing press coverage even for its minor adjustments. This one, not minor, made headlines around the world. Many articles quoted a line from Mr. Humm that gave his decision a soft glow of social responsibility: “The current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways.”)

CG And the “Flatiron Building.” You’re going from landscape to cityscape.  

SH It’s not that so much as its set design for a given play or story. You set the stage for whatever is going on like this new painting. (Walking toward it at the other end of the studio.)

CG Oh my you have chairs now and a sofa!

SH In one of your articles you described the studio as a gym with me and Dave running around. I brought the sofa up from the studio in New York which I have closed after 25 years. It was a pit and costing a fortune to maintain. The rent was going up again. If the service was better I might have stayed. It had no running water.

David Lachman No windows.

SH You couldn’t open the windows after they blew out into the street during a storm. They were completely rotted through. It was a huge loft space right at the intersection of Houston and Broadway. It was just a shambles and now the guys have to fix it up. They can’t rent it. Nobody is going to pay ten grand a month or whatever they ask. I was paying close to that.

This painting is “Valley Vineyard with Clearing Fog.” It’s the Napa Valley. What I loved about the patterns in the Valley is that they always reminded me of Diebenkorn. (Richard Diebenkorn, April 22, 1922 – March 30, 1993) And Thiebaud paintings. (Wayne Thiebaud, born November 15, 1920) This is called “Valley for Thiebaud and Diebenkorn.”

I’m about to put the text on but if you come on up here I can show you the underpainting. We glue in the collage elements. These are both paintings of Diebenkorn’s. Here’s a painting of Thiebaud’s here’s another of Thiebaud’s. This is a piece of Martin Puryear’s. He’s a terrific sculptor who did a piece for Steve Oliver’s ranch which is just over the Valley in Sonoma. This is Christopher Brown who I think is a terrific painter. He’s the heir to the Bay Area Painters. This is actually The Oxbow School. When I was doing that piece with (Robert) Redford he was the one who turned me on to The Oxbow School which is a bend in the Napa River. It’s the only boarding art school for high school kids in the country.

(The Oxbow School is a private, single semester arts school for high school juniors and seniors located in Napa, California, sitting near an oxbow of the Napa River.)

They come from all over the country to study art intensely for one semester and then go back to their high school with credits. That was set up by Jock Reynolds and Ann Hatch. They were friends at Phillips Academy in Andover.

CG How did the film Dreamscapes (2012) come about?

(A portrait of renowned contemporary painter Stephen Hannock-at work in his studio, on the road, and at home with his daughter. Following the artist from the Newcastle opening of Northern City Renaissance (a work commissioned by Sting as a gift to his hometown) to the canals of Venice and the streets of New York that inspired his muralistic installations, Dreamscapes looks behind and beyond the canvas.)

SH Wolfram Hissen is a German filmmaker who lives in Normandy with his wife and three kids. I met him twenty five years ago when he had a friend in common with the guy who manages my studio in New York. I met him then and he was doing work for Christo. He started to film exclusively for Christo and Jeanne Claude.

He was going through the Met one day and saw my painting “The Oxbow.” This is before they had both pieces up. The other one is “Kaaterskill Falls.” (The Met has ten Hannock pieces.) He saw that and tried to find out how to track me down. He said “Let’s do a movie.” I said “Knock yourself out.” He followed me around for three years. He raised the money himself.

CG How much?

SH I have no idea. Probably about $100,000.

CG So it’s an Indie. How did he shoot? Film or video?

SH Hi-def video. Right Dave?

David Lachman Yeah. Most of the budget went for flying around the world.

SH And the lighting. Wait till you see where we are. He said we have to go to this restaurant in Venice. He intercepted me during my annual trip to Tuscany where I figure out the problems of the world with my musician friend. (Laughing) What are we going to tackle this year?

He said you have to come through Venice. I said I would love to because that year the Venice Biennale was going on. But also a show by John Wesley was there. I love his work. He had a huge show in one of the pavilions.

CG He’s a quirky artist. Why do you like him? We saw a lot of his work in the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.

SH Right. He was an old buddy of Donald Judd.

CG There was an entire building with his work.

SH I bet it’s the same show.

CG No, that’s a permanent installation at Chinati.

SH We got to the show and it was closed for the whole month of August. We couldn’t believe it.

CG That’s Italy.

SH We went through the Biennale and not one of the pavilions had any moving air. There weren’t that many people there in August. If the place was packed it would have been suffocating. In the American Pavillion half of Bruce Nauman’s installation was broken down. He would have been furious if he saw this thing. The whole thing (Biennale) was poorly maintained.

Then we went to this restaurant on the top of a building and we got shots up there overlooking the canal at twilight. He just whipped the camera out. If he had scheduled that shoot it would have cost a hundred grand. He just did it renegade.

CG On 60 Minutes last week there was the story about an obscure musician from Detroit Sixto Rodriguez. A Swedish filmmaker (Malik Bendjelloul) shot the film Searching for Sugar Man on his iPhone. He went broke during post production but the unfinished film went to Sundance.

SH Francis Coppola said it fifteen years ago “Somebody is going to win the Academy Award for a film that costs five thousand bucks.” Of course he was speaking with outrageous hyperbole. It’s almost literally right on the button now. It’s much the way that it exists with computer graphics. Somebody is typing away and the thing spits out something with a picture on it. That person then says “I’m a graphic designer.” Well, no. There’s more to it than that. Clearly the same thing exists here.

Wolfram would say “Where are you going next?” I answered here and there. I’m going to Newcastle to unveil a painting. He just timed it to intersect me at all these different places. After two years he sat down and said “Let’s see what sort of film we have?”

I had no influence on the film. I had no idea of what he was trying to do.

CG What’s the point of the film? What does it say about you?

SH You’ve got me, I have no idea. It’s pretty strange where you’re doing paintings ripping into them and writing on them. He captures how my living life is woven into these paintings.

CG Is that true?

SH Absolutely.

CG You have a remarkable lifestyle with  famous friends. Fly all over the world. On every possible VIP list. Have vast studio space. Show at Marlborough. Have you sold a painting for seven figures?

SH (Smile and long pause) I have to stay out of that. I can’t tell you who the players are. There’s something going on. But I get a fraction of that.

CG PB&J?

SH They (Marlborough Gallery) pay for everything. I used to pay for what they pay for now. Let me tell you. It’s a good deal.

CG Traditionally, the split between artist and gallery is fifty/ fifty.

SH That’s the deal now with Marlborough. But when you see what they cover in terms of shipping, promotion. There were only four paintings in the Marlborough show (last year) but they’re monsters. They will be sold when the deals are hammered out. The big ones are all going to public collections. One I’m holding out for the London show.

(By e mail Stephen commented that while the large works sell for high prices they may take years to research, develop and finish. Because they are painted entirely by him, and not by a staff of assistants as is the case with mega artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, only a few epic scaled works leave the studio.)

CG This brings up the issues of passages for artists. At every step there seems to be a threshold. What is the degree of difficulty to sell a show of twenty works for six figures? There is a more limited pool of potential collectors and institutions when works go for big figures. It would seem that there is ever more fierce competition when reaching the high end of the art market.

SH It’s a crowded arena. I think you would be surprised. The contemporary arena, as you know more than most people, is divided up into different slices. There’s the pop arena. That’s not pop culture. Pop art. It’s fine art but done at the pace at which the contemporary culture is moving. We have friends who are doing that. The artists tend to be not so much hands on. They are more like movie producers. Then you get into other arenas like the installation artists. They are a little bit pop but more into architecture. The huge hot slice right now is for large scale photography. They are basically movie sets. Gregory (Crewdson) is my favorite of those artists.

I have an affinity for Jeff Wall because the two of us went into making work that glowed in the mid seventies. I was going into landscape and making them glow. He was using light boxes to make them glow.

As these works become scarcer and much more complex to do they get a lot more expensive. The irony is that my take-home hasn’t changed much at all in the past fifteen years. There are just more players involved. A lot of players involved. That’s just how it is.

CG It seems to reach a point where covering the mega artists moves from the arts and entertainment pages to the business pages. There is less writing about art and more about covering Wall Street. Can we even consider aesthetics when reviewing an exhibition by Hirst or Koons for example? Their work no longer seems to be driven by aesthetic considerations? Isn’t it time to drive the money lenders out of the temple of art?

SH I’m in a very different realm than those guys. Compared to them I don’t make very many pieces. They have warehouses of work. I have a bunch of assistants. They have assistants who are hired by the assistants. I have two main assistants that run the show here. Dave (Lachman) manages everything else so I can come and do the work. Signe Kutzer, an MCLA grad student, does the work of five of my New York assistants. With their help I get the painting done. Michael Chapman is not on staff but builds all my stretchers. He does all the building stuff that I need to do this. The cases. The crates. Chapman still does work for Mass MoCA and the Williams College Museum. We have a lot of people who are really good up here (Berkshires). I’m able to pay what they deserve. That’s where my money goes.

(Today the studio is run by Lachman who hires for specific projects. Michael Chapman continues in his role.)

CG But not at city prices.

SH No. Absolutely not. That’s huge. You should talk to Jenny Holzer. She’s in the same situation. We use Mass MoCA as our studio for trying out certain things. It’s a great facility. My paintings are numbered after Mass MoCA. Much in the way that the ‘60s New York School numbered their paintings after their studios. Tenth Street number 6. Fourteenth Street number 33. Mass MoCA indicates all the works which were done outside of New York.

Sometime you need to talk to Mark Taylor. He has more of an understanding and an ability to articulate the economics of art on the Wall Street scale. He was a philosophy and religion professor at Williams who writes two books every year. Then Columbia built a department around him. He wrote the introduction to my book. His last book  (“Refiguring the Spritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, Religion, Culture and Public Life”) is astute about how Wall Street has glommed onto art, not just to art, but bodies of works of art. I just don’t make the objects to be a part of that thing.

I’ve never had a piece come up for auction. It is probably going to happen this year because the prices are going up to the point where some of these guys are going to try to unload them. Then come back and get newer work. I’ve had pieces go at smaller auctions that did well.

Watching Wolfram make this film has been very much like how I go about making my paintings. You find where you want to shoot and what’s the story that comes out of that?

CG You have an interesting context in which the work is seen. When artists have gallery exhibitions, on average every two years, the show is up for a month. You have two works on more or less permanent view at the Met. But you have unique daily exposure to an elite audience dining at the dozen upscale restaurants that display your paintings. That is  very different from having works in private collections where they do not get that kind of public access.

SH That’s one of the points that Wolfram makes in the film. First of all, it’s only places owned by Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio. The Ritz did buy a group of paintings for an installation up there. But the only work I have done specifically for a space has been with Danny and Tom.

There are almost more curators who pull the trigger after seeing the work in these places, top level restaurants, than in galleries. It has more to do with the fact that galleries are hard sell. Everybody has their guard up. Galleries really want that sale. At restaurants the paintings play second fiddle to the food and the service. I waited on tables and bar tended for years. Peter (architect) and I discuss what we need to do for each space.

CG The film we saw at WFF last year focused on Danny Meyer made a point about the total confluence of all aspects contributing to the dining experience. The restaurant as what the Germans define as Gesamtkunstwerk or a total work of art. It was a term coined by Wagner to describe the totality of his operas. Meyer and Colicchio appear to bring this concept of totality to their designs and execution of restaurants. It is indicative of how we have evolved, and perhaps caught up with the French, by approaching food as a work of art. The restaurant has become the equivalent and as expensive, if not more so, as an orchestra seat at the Metropolitan Opera and, arguably, as dramatic and aesthetically satisfying. American chefs now have the status and celebrity of artists and movie stars.

SH That was Danny and Tom’s breakthrough, in a nutshell. They understood that. They understood how important that was. So, instead of taking this piece or that piece, they said, go talk to this guy. Find out where the walls are going to be. Peter describes the vibe he is trying to put together and it’s brilliant. I was quite pleased to see that Wikipedia got that. There was an article in W some years ago about how that was put together. It was a breakthrough.

CG Can you describe the process involved in collaborations with the architects and developers of the restaurants?

SH When I sat down with Peter Bentel (architect) he described long lights coming down in the space. They created their own patterns. To me they looked like reverse rockets. I created a 30’ triptych of what I called my “Squid Boats.” It was a series started after a trip to China. When you look out at the South China Sea the horizon is speckled with illuminations which are brighter or dimmer according to how close the squid boats are to the shore. I just imagined these things taking off like rockets. That’s all done with power tools. It’s basically a dark canvas and you sculpt it by ripping into the under painting. So that’s where we went for that piece.

When Colicchio and Sons was being built right under the High Line Tom called and said “Talk to Peter.” When I called Peter he said “We think High Line is going to be a big deal.” It was years before they had the money to restore it. I started talking with Robert Hammond and Joshua David who were the two guys who basically skipped work one day and went to a meeting about what they were going to do with this old, rusty infrastructure. They got to be friends and said “Wouldn’t it be great to keep it as a park? A destination for people visiting New York.”  

I figured let’s celebrate this in its current state. It was winter and we were about to get snow so I loved the idea of having all the roof tops which we saw from above, from the DEA building, which abuts Colicchio and Sons. We had an aerial view of the whole thing. That’s where this piece went and the stories and collaged images that surfaced in this project were phenomenal how they wove into each other.

I was taken up into Frank Gehry’s building with Frank, Barry Diller, and Joe Rose whose company built the building. We went up there and it turns out he owns the whole block. Joe Rose was the guy who financed Bridget’s Garden for the city. So I put a 180 degree collage of the participants in the Garden dedication including Sting and Dominic Miller’s performance of “Fields of Gold.” That’s one of dozens and dozens of stories woven into this stage set of the New York High Line. 

(When Colicchio and Sons closed in 2016 the panorama of the High Line was returned to his studio. The piece is co-owned.)

Peter told me that for this restaurant “Tom is going to be using sauces. Let’s get more rich with this. More detail. More moody.”  

CG Where does Sting come into the movie?

SH He did all the music.

CG Original music?

SH No. But we’ll never be able to sell the movie unless EMI is paid because the music was given to us. He gave Wolfram the music to use. 

CG So what can you do with the film? It’s being seen here (WFF) but it seems it’s not getting much distribution.

SH It provides a lot of background on what I’m trying to do. Parts of it are on line and there are lots of film festivals. Wolfram uses it to get other work, the next job. Eventually, it may be bought, in which case, all that would be paid for. The music would have to be paid for. It will be more expensive than it is now but still much cheaper than getting a Hollywood crew out to do this thing. That’s the advantage that short films and documentaries have. Film directors are like painters. They get an idea that excites them. They bring the films to life on credit cards or whatever it takes to keep them going. Every one of them has their own stories.

CG Did you contribute to the film?

SH No but one of my backers did. Tiger Williams who gave one of my pieces to the Metropolitan Museum, he and his wife. He’s a financial guy I have gotten to know over the years through one of my hockey friends. He (Williams) was captain of the Yale hockey team. He gets a lot of puck knuckleheads working for him. That’s how this stuff happens. It’s all part of my life.

Regarding these movies you can’t minimize what video does today. As someone who is making art, your goal is to affect the culture in some way. It’s always vague as to meaning. But you know you’re trying to have some impact on the culture. If telling your story is articulated with the help of a film, well, that’s a no brainer. I can’t make a movie about myself. I just don’t know that much about it. It’s a waste of time. Any time, including talking with critics (laughs), is taking me away from making paintings. They have to get done. I’m here every day.

CG Are you more focused on staying here (The Berkshires) and getting work done? You used to do a lot of traveling.

SH I still do that, the traveling. But that’s all part of the deal. This Spring I’m going to India for the first time. I’m going to Istanbul. I’ve had an idea for a painting for a long time. For ten years.

My buddy has a concert in India. Friends of his are in London and we stay with friends of this guy who I met in Italy. He said “You’ve got to come.” I was thinking this is the first Spring where I wasn’t showing so I said, I’ve got to do this. The trip will be tough, exhausting, two or three weeks. We’ll cover a lot of territory. I’ve been given glimpses of some of the stuff we’re going to do and I really don’t want to pass this up. That’s kind of how these things happen.

(He caught the flu in London and missed the trip.)

Meantime, you get these ideas for paintings and the act of bringing these ideas to life is an incredibly exciting way to live. It’s very tough to have something interfere with that. When people see the numbers being paid for these paintings, and hear what I’m getting (small percentage), they can’t believe that this is a good deal. To affect the culture in this day and age when information is traveling literally at the speed of light requires a lot of people. These people have to get paid. They don’t owe it you because you’re such a breathtaking artist. It’s hard work. Even though most of the money from these paintings goes to other people, every person deserves it. Every person is getting paid what they’re worth. Nobody is taking that which they don’t deserve. That has not always been the case as you well know.

CG Your work is seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s not seen in the Whitney Biennial or on the global biennial circuit. The major art magazines don’t write features about your work. 

SH I know what you’re saying. Clearly landscape is not the white hot center of the art scene. I don’t have to tell You that the press and people who are the custodians of this go where the art takes them. Which is the cool thing about art. They’re not the ones determining who does what. The artists are the ones doing that. There is a lot of really exciting stuff going on. My piece wasn’t in the Whitney Biennial but I feel that we participated when April Gornik and Mark Innerst were in it during the mid 1980s. That’s when the Neo Romantic Landscape came into the top surface of contemporary art. There are a half dozen of us who have stayed there and are doing this.

(Not long after this interview the Whitney acquired a piece.)

CG Who are the half dozen?

SH The people who I’m in touch with are April Gornik and Mark Innerst. That’s three. There are a bunch of others. I’m thinking of the Newsweek article that came out at that time that we were mentioned in. Greg Crane was another. Kim Keever isn’t painting anymore. He takes photographs. He builds these worlds in giant underwater aquariums. He creates these atmospheres and photographs them. You can’t believe the weather he has going on in these things.

Where I am intrigued by the culture is now more through filmmakers, guys who have been around for awhile. What’s happened with me is, the pieces I’ve been making over the years, have been done in a way where the people and adventures that come to my mind, mean more to me than the topography that I’m painting.

That’s where the text happens. It’s an extension of the palimpsests which I do on the envelopes. That was the nascent period of this. It started in the late 1980s where I was just mopping up paint. To soak up paint before I polished it. I was going to throw one of the envelopes away but missed the waste basket. What was on the floor was better than the painting I was working on.

I put it up on the window sill and got into this monotype of this envelope which had travel documentation on it. It had an economic value. And it was from somebody. So when you’re working on an object that has that kind of life woven into it that’s much more fun than working on an inert canvas. Take that to the level of weaving diaries and stories and places you’ve gone to it’s a real adventure. You end up calling these people and saying what’s going on? Some of what they tell you may wind up in that painting. But you can’t do that when you’re twenty five. You do that after you’re fifty when you’ve lived.

CG How do you feel about the art world?

SH I don’t feel one way or the other. It is what it is. It’s fine. Part of it has been very kind to me. Part of it has completely ignored me. That’s changing with this text. There’s people who think I’m ruining these paintings by writing on them. You’re going to piss off somebody no matter where you go. There are curators out there, however, who think this is a major break in the tradition of landscape subject matter since the 19th century. It’s really different. It’s gone into abstraction. It sets the stage and tells the story much the way filmmakers do. That’s the new thing and why I’m getting fussed over. Quite frankly they’re good paintings. I would be the first one to tell you if they were lousy. (Both laughing) Do you disagree?

Something’s working here. I’m not sure what that is. There are failures. It takes you awhile to figure out what they are and then you move from there.

This interview was fact checked and updated with Hannock.