Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where to Be Merry: Art @ M. Hanks Gallery

On Santa Monica’s Main Street several blocks removed from the hustle and bustle of the lively cafes and storefronts, there’s a nondescript brick building that quietly sits near Rose Street. This two-storey edifice can easily evade the watchful eye if you’re not on a vigilant quest for it. And while the exterior may be plain, that's no testament to the treasures that lie within it. For the past 23 years, this building – the M. Hanks Gallery – has proudly displayed the exceptional works of African-American artists throughout the decades.

I first discovered the gallery last year when I attended a special showcase and discussion with artist Phoebe Beasley (pictured below, to the right). Meandering through the endless rooms of paintings hung on rich ruby red walls, I was so moved that I recently returned to meet with owner Eric Hanks to find out what was new at the gallery.

It turns out that the “Masterpieces of African American Art” exhibit is the latest happening, featuring the paintings and sculptures of 35 artists, hailing from various socioeconomic backgrounds, time periods and cities. The art covers the span of more than 130 years, from as early as the 1880s to as current as 2010. Oils on canvas, acrylic, mixed media and even serigraphs and lithographs wondrously bring to life everyday scenes of urban sprawls, powerful political statements, peaceful landscapes and the many faces of the African-American experience.

There are pieces from the world-renowned to the lesser known, from the highly successful to the struggling trailblazers. To give you an idea of how wide the range of art is, there are two 1880s paintings from Grafton T. Brown, the first known African-American painter on the West Coast (pictured to the left) alongside pieces created by sculptor Meta Warrick Fuller who helped to set the Harlem Renaissance in motion.

Owner Eric Hanks willingly shares the history behind the artists’ lives and their works and let me tell you, the stories are good. There are enough tales of poignant tragedies, scandalous family secrets, rich heritages and remarkable accomplishments to create Tyler Perry’s next six box office hits.

With owner Hanks’ vast wealth of information and such visually entrancing pieces, you can easily spend hours here, soaking in wisdom, art and history. So when you’re in the market for that perfect painting to spice up your living room, you now know where to turn. See you there soon!

For more information:
M. Hanks Gallery
3008 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA 90405
310.392.8820
www.mhanksgallery.com

Miss Wilson’s Tips:

- The gallery is open by appointment only. Call in advance to arrange a time to come in.
- You don’t have to have Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s pockets to purchase an art piece here; prices range from as low as $200 and soar up to $280,000.
- Parking in this area can be challenging so remember that there's a parking lot adjacent to the gallery.