A slightly edited version of this piece appeared in the Sunday Times Culture magazine on the 30 March 2014
James Hanley is the very model of an establishment painter. A bastion of the RHA, a member of Aosdana and on the board of the National Gallery. He's perhaps best known for his portraits of figures from official Ireland - prominent politicians, garlanded professors and august old painters. He's the one who immortalised Bertie Aherne in oil - the bland and benign figure he portrayed is an ambiguous legacy. He's also done some fine nude studies over the years. This show sees him move away from his usual concerns to give us a series of paintings based on well-known locations encountered on his travels around the world - the standardised blue-bordered format suggests picture postcards in oil. While these are efficient well-wrought pieces there is an absence of struggle or expression in them - Paddy Graham he ain't, nor would want to be I expect. An exception to this is his minimalist study of Auschwitz. The lookout towers, the box car, and the shadowy figures moving in the mist capture the essence of that bleak and blighted spot.
RHA Ashford Gallery
tel: 01 661 2558
John P. O'Sullivan