Jonny Hannah’s Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox


Songs from the Mermaid Café Jukebox (2nd edition) is a treat that grew from a suggestion made by Mr Simon Lewin of St Jude’s to artist Mr Jonny Hannah. Mr Hannah thereafter not only curated/compiled the collection, but  went the whole hog by writing and illustrating the booklet of notes that accompanies the disc, together with… not as though they were needed… producing some tasty value-added extras.


The result is a little package the size of which belies the treats crammed therein. Quite the ‘Lucky-bag’ packed with delights! For your money, you get:

i) the sleeve with Mr Hannah’s artwork, as seductive and more-ish as a bag of old-fashioned mixed boiled sweets

ii) a double-sided title card

iii) a signed-by-Jonny Mon Oncle print, produced by the artist’s shed-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden-Cakes & Ale Press

iv) a densely decorated sixteen page booklet with track notes by the artist

v) the disc itself, slathered with more Hannah artwork and made up of a generous twenty tracks


Credit is given in the notes to Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, from whose archive the selection of recordings has been made.

Mr Hannah has a way with the words, as befits the progenitor of the continuing creative adventure that is ‘Darktown’, the artist’s compellingly believable community-of-the-imagination that reeks of brine and liquor, vintage clothing and chandlery bitumen. Sometimes salty and occasionally rhapsodic, I enjoyed his notes quite as much as I enjoyed the tracks! This is he on a mash-up of Ogden Nash, Noel Coward and Saint-Saëns.”

“Quintessential Englishness mixes with a French composer and American words. Dreamlike otherworldly sounds, way down below. A symphony for all fish and drowned lost souls.”


There’s a crazed and eclectic bunch of musicians and performers gathered at Mr Hannah’s party, and I play the disc in the studio while working on my own St Jude’s project, which is a picture-book of Hansel & Gretel. I think my plucky German protagonists would not be out of place at a gathering that included Mel Torme, Robert Mitchum (yes, the actor), Miles Davies, Art Blakey and the charmingly named Pinky Winters.


Kudos to Mr Lewin for setting this caravan in motion. It is a pleasure in all its parts!

Available from the St Jude’s website. (But I’m sure not for long. This will be sold out in no time.)


Clive Hick-Jenkins

May 2016

Read my review of Jonny Hannah Greetings from Darktown: an illustrator’s miscellany,  HERE

Back to Black

Yesterday when our neighbours called around kindly bearing Simnel cake and duck eggs, we started talking about ‘Vantablack’, the so-called ‘new pigment’ that’s been in the headlines. Artists, myself included, have been ranting at the news as reported that Anish Kapoor had ‘purchased’ the exclusive rights to it. Now why the fuck should any artist, no matter how esteemed or puffed up by the media (and themselves) be allowed to ‘own’ a colour? It seemed like another manifestation of a grabby culture in which individuals and organisations with enough money and clout, snaffle up anything that might be profited from. The headlines have been pretty tacky, volatile and occasionally grammatically clumsy.

ArtNet News: Anish Kapoor angers artists by seizing exclusive rights to ‘blackest black’ pigment.

The Guardian: Can an Artist ever really own a colour?

Daily Mail: Artists at war after top sculptor is given exclusive rights to the purest black paint ever which is used on stealth jets.

My neighbour John wrote to me this morning:

John Warren: We have been doing more reading about the “new black” its a long way from being available as a paint. The nano-tubes have to be fixed on a surface in the lab, so sections of it could be made to fit a piece of art.

Clive: Ah ha! So presumably it would be easy to apply a flat surface, such as a painting with clearly defined areas of black.


But could it be made to adhere to a complex three dimensional form, such as a fragile found object like this root…


… or would that object first need to be rendered with a 3-D printer into something more physically robust?

John: Joe reckons that would be possible. There is talk about covering spy planes. However, it fails if you touch it as the orientation of the nano-tubes is changed

Clive: So the finish is incredibly delicate. Not much good if the brush of a hand or a gust of wind can realign and ruin the arrangement… and thus the visual effectiveness… of the nano-tubes. It sounds not so much a new pigment as an optical effect requiring very specific conditions. Looks like I’m going to have to stick with paint.

Interestingly, the dense blacks of my last exhibition were essentially an optical effect. I painted the backgrounds of the artworks with black gouache. The gouache paint dries matt, reflecting light in such a way as to emphasise its less-than-black characteristics. Even the highest quality black gouache tends to appear charcoal grey in most light conditions. But when I put the images under glass, the black becomes incredibly rich and deep, a sort of polished obsidian much blacker in appearance than when viewed without the glass.

On closer examination, though phrases like ‘bought the exclusive rights to’ have been much bandied about in relation to Kapoor’s acquisition, the reality seems to be a publicity stunt by the makers of ‘Vantablack’, invented to associate their product with a ‘name’, though the artist has clearly been complicit.


Above: Vantablack applied to crumpled aluminium foil to demonstrate its matt, ‘flattening’ qualities.

So at this point Vantablack is not a paint, and needs to be affixed to surfaces in laboratory conditions. Nevertheless, despite the fact that this discovery is undoubtedly exciting for artists everywhere, its much-trumpeted announcement in the press, couched in the language and values of a celebrity-culture obsessed with ‘exclusivity’… whatever that is… diminishes the idea of a ‘new black’ in my eyes. I would have been much more excited by news that the makers had offered to work with art students, than be assaulted with yet more evidence of society’s perceived attachment to the frankly tacky claims of ownership from an artist who might be expected to know better. While it comes as no surprise that Kapoor has allowed himself to be associated with Vantablack in this way, it doesn’t make me think highly of him.

I recently spent a few days at Southampton Solent School of Art, Design and Fashion, invited by the artist Jonny Hannah… who is a tutor there… to talk to students about my work. I was massively impressed by the school and its staff, and by the fantastic invention and energy of Director, Peter Lloyd. Peter and his associates have created innovative opportunities for students, such as the award-winning Re:So retail space, located in a busy Southampton shopping centre, which is stocked, managed and staffed by students who for the most part make all the products offered. I visited the shop with Peter Lloyd and my socks were blown off by the experience.


At Southampton all efforts are being made to build opportunities for the next generation of artists and designers, rather than creating an impression, like Anish Kapoor and the makers of Vantablack, of doors slamming loudly in their faces!

Bravo/Brava Southampton Solent!

The Sesquicentennial ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’

The one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from Inky Parrot Press, in which every chapter was allocated its own artist/illustrator, is now out. It’s a beautiful volume. I now have a niggling itch to design a whole edition of the book.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ chapter

Cover by Janet Woolley

Jonny Hannah’s chapter

Robi Dwi Antono’s chapter

Mini Grey’s chapter

Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ chapter

Ian Whadcock’s chapter

Giovanni Robustelli’s chapter

My thanks to Dennis Hall, who invited me to be a part of this lovely project.

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.


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

Random Spectacular No 2

Over at Saint Jude’s, Random Spectcular No 2 is about to be launched. Editor and designer Simon Lewin writes that it’s “a collaborative exploration of the visual arts, literature, music, travel and much more.” Anyone lucky enough to have nabbed a copy of the the inaugural edition a couple of years ago (see below) will know that a treat is in store.

Some of the artists who’ve contributed to the project are Ed Kluz, Christopher Brown, Emily Sutton, Angie Lewin, Mark Hearld, Jonny Hannah… a favourite of mine, who has produced the splendid Random Spectacular No 2 cover you can see below… and me. My offering is an illustrated re-telling of Hansel and Gretel (see top image) with a twist!


All profits from this issue will again be donated to the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres that St. Jude’s have been pleased to support over the years. Over £6,500 was raised from the first issue of ‘Random Spectacular’ and there are hopes to beat that with issue no. 2. You can sign up for a copy