Jonny Hannah Greetings from Darktown: an illustrator’s miscellany

Mr Daniel Hornsey of Hornseys’ Gallery, knowing my liking for the work of Mr Jonny Hannah, has sent me a copy of the just published, long-anticipated Jonny Hannah Greetings from Darktown: an illustrator’s miscellany. Published by Merrell with, ‘texts’ by Philip Hoare, Sheena Calvert and Peter Chrisp, there’s a short introduction by the artist, plus some entertaining writings by by him among the pages of images. This, when it comes down to it, is a book all about images, and there’s a satisfying glut of them to relish. Greetings from Darktown is a credit to the publisher and creative team, produced with a matt finish throughout, which handsomely conveys the graphic quality of Mr Hannah’s work.

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Jonny Hannah stands within a group of practitioners described with admirable simplicity as ‘Modern British’. But while those two words might suggest a wide church, the reality is that they’re increasingly used to define a more particular group, namely those inspired by the indiginous British decorative traditions identified by Barbara Jones in The Unsophisticated Arts. (London. Architectural Press, 1951.) As far as I can tell, of those image-makers currently exploring the themes embraced by the term ‘unsophistcated arts’… which include everything from the art of tattooing to to the art of fairground architecture… Mr Hannah is the chiefest. He is the most prolific and imaginative, and the one whose work, for me, has the essential anarchic wit, rawness of spirit and vivacity of execution. (There is nothing in his work of the retro-ennui that dogs the outputs of others less skilled than he.) Mr Hannah is also the best ‘letterer’ on the planet, and his work seethes with traditional and invented typefaces that gladden the heart and enrich, and indeed illuminate everything he touches. I would even go so far as to suggest that Mr Hannah has reinvented and reinvigorated the British graphic arts, just as comprehensively as Mr Jarman reinvented and reinvigorated the art of the British garden with his pioneering work at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness.

It’s interesting that Mr Hannah subtitles his book ‘an illustrator’s miscellany’. While one can’t argue with that… he is indeed an illustrator and can be found on many a fetching book and album cover… he is also something far more. Here is no pay-per-commission limner, moving from project to project according to the serendipity of what comes his way. He may be the go-to man for those-in-the-know wanting to add lustre to their activities, but the merest glance through this book of his, will show that Mr Hannah’s greatest creation is the construction of a complete and self-contained universe, subversive, anarchic, darkly glittering, full of sub-divisions and out of-of-the-way-corners, and peopled with a cast of characters worthy of Dylan Thomas. His myriad Darktown creations, shovelled higgledy-piggledy into his wonderful ‘neighbourhood of the imagination’, to me collectively form a fascinating, ongoing, ever-developing, vibrant work-of-art.

While geographically Darktown is located somewhere in Mr Hannah’s head, through his creative sleight-of-hand he makes it live in our heads, too. And though some of the places may once have had their origins in a real world, by the time they’ve been filtered through his astonishing imagination, there has been a transformation into something infintely more interesting. In Darktown you can find McVouty’s 2nd Hand Emporium, The Owen Coffin Chandlery, The Chambray Workwear Coffee Company, The White Horse Matchbox Company and Pepé de Mako’s Café and Bar. I can’t think of another artist right now creating a more compelling body of diverse graphic work. Moreover Darktown, taken in its entirety, forms a place you feel you could actually visit. Just as well you can’t, because if there were a bus route to it, everyone would want to go!

I’m rarely to be found exhorting visitors here at the Artlog, but I’m making an exception today.

Buy this book! You will not regret it!

Jonny Hannah’s exhibition runs at Hornseys’ Gallery, 3 Kirkgate, Ripon, HG4 1PA, from

16 November – 25 November

Monday – Saturday: 9.30 am – 5. 30 pm.

Sunday: 11 am – 4.30 pm.

Telephone: 01765 602878.

Work from the exhibition will be available to purchase at the gallery and online from 6 pm on Saturday 15th November

Learn more about Mr Hannah’s Darktown courtesy of the The Curious One

6 thoughts on “Jonny Hannah Greetings from Darktown: an illustrator’s miscellany

  1. Pingback: Jonny Hannah’s Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. After reading this review, I am back to being a very young child watching Leonard Sachs on “The Good Old Days” doing one of his wonderful introductions to a music hall act. 🙂 I was fascinated by Mr Sachs’ eloquence then, as I am by yours now. The richness of your review is more than a match for the richness of Jonny Hannah’s imagination. As you know, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about Darktown recently, so if you do manage to find the bus-ride which takes you there, please get me a ticket!!

    • One of the delights of Jonny’s visionary world, is that we all get tipped headlong into the fun of it. I tried on various hats before penning this, including a pickled though erudite Ahab-like one-legged ex-sea captain with a taste for art picked up through a life-time’s acquisition of scrimshaw gewgaws, and a disgraced Ivy League classics professor turned notorious international sexual adventurer/self-taught seamen’s tattoo artist. But I seemed more suited in the end to this Leeds City Varieties fellow with twirling moustaches, a twinkle in his eye and a flourish to his descriptives… if you get my drift, Madam!

      • Do you promise me you will save the other characters you describe for future appearances at the Artlog?!! Your style of writing about Jonny’s work seems fitting to me, as the larger-than-life characters that populate his imaginary world need the vocabulary of a theatrical Master of Ceremonies to introduce them. I can also see another character, who has made a previous appearance at the Artlog, doing a good job of this review. I give you Paul Bommer’s “Mister Dark” (I think your Ivy League professor may have come across him on his travels!):

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