The sharp-suited illustrator from Southampton – shares his views on Southampton, the creative community and his stylish look.
How long have you lived in Southampton? What sums up the city for you?
I’ve been here for 12 years now. What attracted me to it was the fact that it was a working town and people had proper jobs.
I can still hear the hustle & bustle of the docks at night from my house in Shirley, and I love that. Stuff comes in, stuff goes out, including thrill seekers on their way to more exotic locations on the cruise ships. But in recent years, thanks to Dan Crow at Aspace and others, the art scene has been getting bigger. 12 years ago, the arty side of Southampton was a bit of a blank canvas and now it’s getting better, more diverse and more exciting. I think the clock tower attached to the civic centre is my favourite city icon; tall, majestic, functional – a wonderful lump of off-white architecture. The ever changing art collection inside the city art gallery is amazing, they’re very good at rotating the paintings in there, so there’s always a new surprise every time you walk in. It’s not often you see a John Minton painting, but now & again, there it is.
You teach at Southampton Solent University – what do you enjoy most about working with the students?
Solent School of Art & Design, as we are now officially known, is a great place to go to work. Our new building, which overlooks the High Street is a real treat. No two days are the same working with the students. You may see the same ones on a daily basis, but there’s always something new to look at, something news to discuss. from the images they’ve made overnight, or in the last hour, to music, to clothes. Every time you walk into the print room, there’s a new delight for the eyes, whether it be letterpress, screen print, or a card cut and each year we have the degree show which is always hard work, stressful, but productive. It’s our chance to show off what we do to the public, parents & rest of the university.
You are known as a snappy dresser with your correspondent shoes and sharp suits, which fashion era most interests you?
I’ve always had a fear of looking like everyone else. That makes me sound like a snob, which I basically am! T-shirt, jeans and trainers… no thanks! So over the years, mainly dictated by the music I like, I’ve found alternatives to what the high street offers. I got my first tailor made suit to coincide with the launch of my only children’s book, ‘Hot Jazz Special’ published by Walker Books in 2005. I had a slightly flamboyant pinstripe suit made, brown with blue stripe. I liked to think I looked like a more subdued version of George Melly, who endorsed the book. Or a slightly thinner Fats Waller. The correspondent shoes went a treat with that. There are a large group of illustrators who have this obsession with ‘work-wear’, not high-viz jackets and the like, but a more refined denim look perhaps, or a heavy cotton suit. There’s a great shop in Holt, Norfolk, called Old Town and it’s the only one of it’s kind. You can buy suits, made for you, that are relatively cheap, in a choice of workwear cottons, corduroy, flannel or tweed. You go into the shop looking lie Joe Bloggs and you come out like a young George Orwell, that with a bow tie, or sometimes a knitted tie and one looks the bees knees, but you do sometimes get funny looks. There’s a fine line between looking different & looking like you’re going to a fancy dress party but that’s the risk you take; flaneuring along Shirley High Street in a Donegal tweed suit, trying to look like a Harvard professor with a book of Ferlinghetti poems under your arm. I used to buy a lot of second-hand clothes, but the internet started calling them vintage & then the prices went up, so it’s old town for me from now on and Trickers shoes.
What three things would you advise a visitor to Southampton to see?
The City Art Gallery, the home made beer at the Platform Tavern and feed the ducks at the duck pond on Southampton Common.
Jonny Hannah studied at the Cowdenbeath College of Knowledge, Liverpool Art School & then the Royal College of Art. For the last 13 years he has been a freelance illustrator & is represented by the Heart Agency in London & New York. His many clients include The Sunday Telegraph, The New York Times & The St. Kilda Courier.
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