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Winter 2008 Table of Contents

Drive-by Painting

Hannah Cole (CFA'05) takes a fresh look out the windshield

| From Alumni Notes | By Taylor McNeil

Her subject is the road — and the feelings she has about the places she sees — but Hannah Cole paints in this studio in Somerville, Massachusetts. Photo by Jessica Sharp (COM'08)

Driving the familiar route home or even traveling cross-country on a highway, most of us barely see what’s on the side of the road. Not Hannah Cole. When she’s in her Ford Ranger, heading up I-93 just north of Boston or tooling down a two-lane road out West, she’s soaking it all up, alive to the nuances of the moment. For the past few years, Cole (CFA’05) has been capturing those vistas in paintings and drawings, and with several shows behind her, she is attracting more attention than most young artists.

“Why do so many things happen in cars?” asks a character in Richard Ford’s novel The Lay of the Land. “Are they the only interior life left?” Those are Cole’s questions, too. She finds the view through her windshield “a kind of a metaphor for a person’s interior world and for the relationship between that interior private world and the world outside.”

Losing the Plot, 2006, oil on canvas, 29” x 31”

Take her 2006 painting Northslope, which shows a view from the driver’s side window, the snowy rock formations across the highway contrasting with the fall colors of the road just past reflected in the side mirror. And then there’s Losing the Plot, focusing on a car interior, with webs of frost cracking the windshield. “It’s an intricately planned, well-executed painting,” writes Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe. “Cole has scrutinized an experience most people wish would just be over, and in the small details she has found surprising beauty.”

And what better metaphor for life in America? “It represents the best of being an American — forward movement and technology and progress and hope, the American dream and the frontier mentality,” Cole says. “But it also represents the negative side. I’m driving in my car, isolated from others, contributing to my carbon footprint.”

Life Returned to Normal (The Color Field Painting), 2006, oil on canvas, 37” x 44”

Cole picks her scenes carefully — they are places filled with meaning for her; her paintings and drawings are based on photographs and sketches made on subsequent trips, during which her husband drives. “They are infused with the feelings I have while I’m there, since they are places I’m very familiar with,” she says. “I think they are personal; I have my own relationship to the place. Boston is fraught with all my demons. It’s where I grew up and went to school, but it’s also where the people I love most are. It’s an emotionally complex and rich place for me.”

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