Hannafin sets his sights on birds-eye view of downtown West Chester

Photo by Wm. Shawn Weigel John Hannafin works on his panoramic painting of downtown West Chester at his temporary gallery space in the old Warner Theater.

He's painted some of the most picturesque sites in the country, he's tackled the Brandywine numerous times, and he's been to the heart of the Arizona badlands for a once-in-a-lifetime experience to push his art even further.

So what has area artist John Hannafin set his sights on for his next big project?

His hometown of West Chester, in all its glory.

Several weeks ago, Hannafin was given an opportunity to go to the top of the Farmers and Mechanics Building in downtown West Chester, right at the corner of Market and High Streets. Once there, Hannafin took a series of photos of the borough and composited them into one large panoramic view that falls just a few degrees shy of 360.

Hannafin is now staked out in his temporary gallery space in the historic Warner Theater, where he is working on a painting based on his patchwork photo on a 14 by 4 canvas mounted to the wall.

The painting starts at the left along High Street and moves through town, showing buildings along High, Market and Gay Streets, and completes the image back at Market.

Far in the distance, beyond where Market blends into Route 3, is the Philadelphia skyline, an addition that Hannafin said is only suggested at in the hazy distance of the photograph.

"It was a hazy morning when I took the picture, but on a clear day, I'm pretty sure you could see Philly," he said.

He also added a single crow in the foreground as a way to give the painting a sense of time and movement and to also add a "character" to the painting.

"I wanted the painting to be real, and that you could actually live in this space, so I'm still working on the tones to make it that believable," he said. "I'm trying to meet someplace between believability and another more artistic dimension."

Being staked out at the Warner building for the past few weeks has moved Hannafin to look for inspiration literally right outside his window.

After painting a few scenes of downtown West Chester, when the opportunity came up to get a birds-eye view of the town he calls home, he jumped at it.

"I was born a few blocks away; I grew up on High Street. Somewhere in my mind, I feel like my spirit resides right at that intersection," he said. "I feel like my heart's always here. And it's a cool town."

To keep the buildings at the right perspective, Hannafin said, the sight lines curve ever so slightly out, keeping in consideration the curvature of the human eye and how the brain interprets a 3-D image.

"When you go past the line of vision, the lines start to curve naturally," Hannafin said.

For the full effect of the painting, Hannafin said, one would have to curl it up end to end - leaving a small gap to compensate for the missing 15 degrees - and stand inside.

But that isn't his plan for the painting - in fact, he isn't sure at all what he is going to do with the massive piece when it's done.

"It would be a huge piece to frame," he said. "And expensive."

So far, he's put about 25 hours into the piece, and expects another 20 before he's satisfied with the results. In that time, he plans to incorporate more details into the building facades and add additional texture to the sky.

In an effort to get the correct shading, Hannafin compares a grey scale photo to a grey scale version of the original photo, giving him an idea of where light and shawod occur naturally.

It's a tremendous effort and an ambitious one, Hannafin said, but it also seemed natural for the city of his birth to be the subject of his single most ambitious work to date.

"Just being here in this historic location and hearing the street sounds is inspiring," he said. "I just wanted to get a good overall feel of the town."

To view any of Hannafin's works, including the West Chester piece, visit the Warner Theater on High Street in West Chester, between Gay and Chestnut Streets. For more information on Hannafin and his work, visit www.artpassionista.com.

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