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Jonny Hannah in his studio. Picture: Alun Callender
Jonny Hannah in his studio. Picture: Alun Callender
  • Artist and illustrator Jonny Hannah’s shopping-themed show Main Street opens at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this weekend. Yvette Huddleston reports.
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’Tis the season of retail frenzy again and this weekend sees the timely opening of an exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park that addresses the changing face of shops and shopping.

Artist and illustrator Jonny Hannah’s Main Street will transform the YSP Centre into a vintage-inspired homage to the independent trader and the high streets of yesteryear. There will be three pop-up shops made entirely from the artist’s 2D and 3D artworks and the show features a collection of new linocuts, screen prints and paintings incorporating Hannah’s characteristic use of strong colours and typography.

The show was partly inspired by Hannah’s local high street in a suburb of Southampton where he is a lecturer on the BA Illustration course at Solent University and where he has lived for the past 13 years. “When I first moved to Shirley there were quite a few independent traders and a couple of quirky shops on the high street but they have now gone,” he says. “It’s all become a bit generic. Local shops are struggling, if not disappearing altogether, and my show is a minor protest.”

Once he had the idea, Hannah began thinking about how he could best use the space in the YSP Centre. “I have all these alcoves and I thought maybe I could turn those into shop fronts and interiors,” he says. “And I kept thinking of shop owners serving the customers. I’m not saying that life was better in the past but we do so much shopping online today that maybe sometimes the human touch is lacking.”

To that end he has created life-sized cut-out traders made of plywood who will greet visitors as they enter – and they are not your average shopkeepers. “At the Jacques Brel Record Store, Jacques will be there to welcome you,” says Hannah. “He also makes nice coffee. At the Hand and Heart Emporium junk shop the owner is Portuguese fado singer Amalia Rodrigues. There is this fantasy place I have called Darktown – it is an odd place, not somewhere where everything is perfect and everyone is nice – and who knows what you will find in the shops. I love the feeling of opening a shop door and wondering what you will discover inside.”

Much of Hannah’s work is inspired by his love of music – and particularly jazz – which goes back to his teenage years. “When I was about 16 my sister’s then boyfriend loaned me a tape of Charlie Parker and I thought ‘this is fast, exciting and symphonic’,” he says. “Jazz has never really gone away for me as a source of excitement and inspiration. I say to my students – listen to Charlie Parker; he never played the same notes twice – it is about thinking on your feet.”

The music theme also features in a limited edition CD, curated and packaged by Hannah – “it’s a kind of ‘mix tape’,” he says – and make your own ukulele kits, as well as other merchandise for sale in the YSP shop and online.

Hannah will also be launching a book in January, Fast Cars and Ukuleles: A Jonny Hannah A-Z and in February he will be hosting a Valentine’s cabaret at the YSP in an evening of entertainment, food and music – and, yes, he will be playing his ukulele. All the décor for the evening – from the labels on the beer bottles to the menus – will be designed by Hannah.

“The exhibition is basically everything I like about pop culture,” he says. “I hope there will be elements that people can relate to, it is a kind of altered reality.”

At the YSP from November 14-February 28.