What the Sea Means for an Artist? Jonny Hannah

Inside cover of "Les Mots" by Jean Paul Sartre, painted by Jonny Hannah. Gift to the Sea Library. Photo: Beach Books Inside cover of "Les Mots" by Jean-Paul Sartre, painted by Jonny Hannah. Gift to the Sea Library. Photo: Beach Books

Sea Library is a room for the sea. Seashells, driftwood, books and art grow on walls like corals on a reef. Far from being a white cube, the library is mirrored in each and every frame, creating a world of many dimensions and merged stories.

I asked each artist, what the sea means for him or her.

This week it’s Jonny Hannah. I am very happy to have his limited edition poster It’s Only Me From Over the Sea – with handsome Barnacle Bill the Sailor – framed on the wall. I also cherish a very special gift from Jonny. He bought a book in French in a charity shop, Les Mots (or Words) by Jean-Paul Sartre, and painted its front, back and inside covers (and eight watchful eyes on the spine), creating a unique work of art. You can come and explore it in the Sea Library.

Jonny Hannah is a Scotland-born artist from Southampton, England. Many of his drawings and paintings are glimpses of Darktown, a mythical place, a fabled and dark city by the sea, filled with jazz clubs, tattooed sailors, beautiful girls and blue melodies. “The urges come from an inner Darktown, long before I started going there,” writes Jonny Hannah in his art book Greetings from Darktown. “Navigate your way through songs to sirens. Oceans of ballads that send Ouija messages to inform, entertain and warn. Roller coasters of emotional, honest words, designed to make you laugh and cry in equal measures. A map turned upside down and taped back together so it will never truly make sense.”

Fragment of "It's Only Me from over the Sea", 2009, a limited edition poster by Jonny Hannah and Heart Agency
Fragment of “It’s Only Me From Over the Sea”, 2009, a limited edition poster by Jonny Hannah and Heart Agency

As a terrible swimmer, the sea is the only place, strangely enough, that I enjoy splashing about in the water. Swimming pools are too noisy or organised, but La Mer is the place for me to practice my terrible breast stroke. It’s terrifying, yet exhilarating too, especially when I go slightly out of my depth, until retreating to a spot where my Scottish toes can touch the bottom again. And the waves! Either in France or in the Baltic… God, they remind you you’re alive alright.

Jonny Hannah
Books written and illustrated by Jonny Hannah, available in the Sea Library, and in the third photo "Les Mots" by Jean Paul Sartre, its front, back and inside covers painted by Jonny Hannah as a gift to Sea Library
Books written and illustrated by Jonny Hannah, available in the Sea Library, and in the third photo “Les Mots” by Jean-Paul Sartre, its front, back and inside covers painted by Jonny Hannah as a gift to Sea Library

Follow Jonny Hannah on Instagram @darktownresident