Throughout history, artists have used our collective fascination with hands to tell the larger stories of their lives and ours. In the 18th century, Anthony Van Dyck painted subdued self-portraits showing his delicate, elongated fingers resting on his shoulder to show potential patrons how much he values his hands, the tools of his trade. In 1919 Alfred Stieglitz created an entire series focusing just on Georgia O’Keeffe’s hands. One photograph in particular shows a hand placed on her bare breasts; turning what would have been considered an erotic photo into an intimate one. And in 1965, Ed McClanahan, then a burgeoning writer now known for his witty and colorful storytelling, created a series of thirteen drawings of hands as comical and strange portraits.
This series of drawings, dubbed McClanahands by their creator, explore an odd and varied spectrum of human emotion—each sporting its own expression and personality. One appears to be daydreaming, fingers positioned in a pose of meditation with eyes closed and mouth upturned in a slight smile. Another shows frustration, its face scrunched with anxiety, holding a stick of dynamite, its fist ready to explode. Others are smoking cigarettes, trying to hitchhike to Tijuana, or flipping the middle finger at onlookers. As a writer, McClanahan focused on hands because they are the vehicle for his writing. He unconsciously chose to draw hands at a time when Americans’ freedom was in the forefront of people’s minds, much as it is again today.
Out of Hand is the the first exhibition to focus on Ed McClanahan’s work as a visual artist. In 1962 McClanahan received Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner Fellowship for Creative Writing, after which he was selected for a Jones Lectureship where he taught creative writing until 1972. During his time at Stanford, he befriended Ken Kesey, American novelist and author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Kesey, together with a number of other notable writers and artists, formed the Merry Pranksters, a group famously known for their journey across the United States to promote American ideals of freedom through LSD. These thirteen drawings, affectionately titled Ten Schizophrenic Drawings, were made while the artists was living in northern California amongst Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. McClanahan has been widely published with stories appearing in Playboy, Esquire, and Rolling Stone among many others. Between 1975 and the present, Ed has written 12 books, including The Natural Man in 1983, and Famous People I Have Known in 1985. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
Dimensions: 4 x 5 inches
Printed by Post Printing in Lexington, KY
Includes an essay by Elizabeth Glass