James Ellroy painting by Mike Hanlon

Caught in Translation: From Page to Paint



With the opening of Elsewhere, the latest juried exhibition at Art Center Sarasota, local artists from all walks strut their stuff and show their latest. Sculptures, paintings, photographs, prints, etchings, sketchings and everything in between adorn all four of the institution’s galleries, turning the whole building into a celebration of the vast and varied talent of the region.

Juried by Laura Avery, exhibitions manager for Selby Gardens, as well as former director of Art Center Manatee and former assistant director of Ringling College’s celebrated Basch Gallery, the artist Mike Hanlon brought home the top honor with a portrait of the author James Ellroy. “I didn’t think there was a chance of it winning anything,” says Hanlon with a note of surprise. “I was just hoping they’d hang me in a good spot with nice lighting.”

For five years, Hanlon has painted authors as part of his Literary Heroes series. Hemingway, Poe, Vonnegut, Twain—all have gotten their due at the end of Hanlon’s brush, and always in oil. “That’s all I know,” he says. Why he’s drawn to authors, he can’t quite say, but suspects it may come from a kinship born of solitude. Kindred artists, in a way, both painters and authors often work their magic in isolation, spending solitary hours at the easel or on the blank page. They retreat in order to emerge—arriving from their exile, work fully formed, only to again step back, defined by their creations. A portrait inverts the equation.

Also, as an avid reader, Hanlon finds the exercise revealing of the authors whose work he consumes. “You know a lot about a person just by looking at their face,” he says. As for Ellroy, author of brutal and bloody epics such as The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential? “He’s a pretty tough guy,” says Hanlon. But being his subject doesn’t mean Ellroy’s a favorite. “There are writers I like a lot better,” the artist says, including the late Tom Wolfe and Philip Roth.

Hanlon’s penchant for author portraits has also given him a rather distinct avenue of exhibition. In addition to hanging as part of Elsewhere, Hanlon plans to continue submitting to every Art Center Sarasota show that he can, citing the gallery’s layout and lighting as high points. But he’s also found a home in area libraries and bookstores, including delivering a new portrait to Shelf Indulgence every month.

James Ellroy hangs in Art Center Sarasota through September 28.

"James Ellroy" by Mike Hanlon.