There is a lot of superb contemporary realism being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a nocturne painting by Bradley Hankey.
Originally from Oregon, the painter Bradley Hankey (b. 1979) attended Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design and has been based in Los Angeles since 2009. In 2020, the artist took many reference photographs during a memorable helicopter ride that inspired a series of major paintings of Southern California’s distinctive convergence of city and sea. Works resulting from yet another helicopter flight appeared in a show mounted by the other passenger on that aerial adventure, dealer Lia Skidmore.
The scene illustrated here, “Always You,” constitutes a kind of bridge between 2020’s nocturnal scenes and the dusky ones he later showed. “Always You” draws its title from Hankey’s first date with his now-partner, almost a decade ago — an evening that launched a relationship he says was “meant to be.”
Hankey thinks the phrase “emotional realism” describes his art best: “The scene depicted in “Always You” made an emotional impact on me, which is why I took a photo of it. And that moment of emotional impact is what I sought to convey in the painting.”
“Always You” certainly is realistic, yet it also reflects Hankey’s engagement with abstraction: “I love using solid blocks of color wherever I can, and especially in urban landscapes, where a structure is often reduced to a simple shape with a single color.”
In his nocturnal series, Hankey used a rich, dark palette, but “Always You” incorporates pastel hues, a shift that makes sense when we consider how much more light the dusk encompasses. The artist notes, “The sky and water are built up with glazes, transparent layers of paint that blend optically to form a richer color. The cityscape is also built up in layers, but opaque ones. Single brushstrokes represent entire buildings, and dots represent a range of light sources.”
It is a pleasure to view Hankey’s work in person, first up close to admire his “simple” strokes of paint, then backing away to watch them coalesce. The resulting sense of discovery, even surprise, relies upon the tension between rhythm and painterliness. Here the Santa Monica Pier’s shimmering lights — flashes of energy — contrast with the dark, expansive planes of sky and ocean that convey nature’s power, and its comparative calm.
Finding that balance is not easy, but Hankey has mastered it, and we look forward to seeing more dusk scenes.
This article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine.
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