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In Conversation with Hannah Nowlan

Thank you to everyone who has popped in to see Hannah Nowlan’s sell out exhibition ‘Myths Moons and Mountains’, we are so proud of what a great success Hannah’s first solo show has been! The Exhibition is coming down this Thursday but if you missed out you can still view the work on our website here or shop exclusive Modern Times editions here.

This week we caught up with Hannah and enjoyed what was a fascinating discussion gaining a deeper understanding of the process of Hannah’s practice as an artist. You can listen to the conversation on our Facebook or enjoy the read below. Thank you to Hannah for answering our questions with such thought and insight, enjoy!

1, HN_11

I think when discussing this body of work the first thing I’m curious about is the development of the motifs through out. Can you tell us a bit about the subject matter or the content of your work? 

The motifs throughout this new series are partly imaginative scenes and partly true depictions of place. The subject-matter that forms the motifs vary from seascapes and landscapes, to fortes, buildings and canyons, to legends and fables. All the influences tend to penetrate my imagination and become my own.

In part each shape acts as an anchor, trapping memories of places I’ve been or spaces I’ve encountered, these can be both physical and emotional spaces. The recurring shapes and colours throughout this series form a dialogue within each painting and across all the paintings as a whole, similar to the way language forms a myth or a story.

I think what’s become synonymous with your work has been the emphasis on texture, you go to great lengths to ensure the visibility of that texture for the audience, the works have no glass for a purer exposure. Can you tell us about the mediums you use and what’s important for you when choosing the medium?

I feel a work of art is more personal with no glass, it feels more real. I find the reflections to be distracting and they separate the viewer from the work, without glass an artwork, to me, is more approachable. I think the subtlety of texture has always been prevalent within my work for as long as I have been making. Medium is something I have a physical, spatial, sensual and visual relationship with.

I have had a long-standing love for paper since a very young age, making, collecting and crafting with it for as long as I can remember. Linen is also something I have had a long relation with. My mum being a dressmaker, I’ve always admired and appreciated fabric especially natural fibers and textures. I have a strong relationship with timber too, as my father is a carpenter and it has been another medium, elemental in my life.

Working on paper came very naturally to me, after specialising in drawing and printmaking at university. For a long time, I’ve wanted to paint on linen but with such appreciation for the natural medium of linen, there was a lot of hesitation and I felt I needed to reach a certain place before I I could positively add to what is already such a beautiful substance.

I think for those of us who don’t make art, like myself I’m always curious about the process, is it instinct when compiling your layers or colour or do you find yourself laboring over these details or particular pieces?

A lot of my work is instinct yet at the same time, a lot is pre-planned. A lot is stumbled across or discovered along the way and my initial plan will never stay true, I make a change or a mistake and it usually evolves for the better. You have to be able to let go of initial ideas, allow yourself to play in the moment and to not resist going with the flow or wherever the work needs you to go.

Prior to this series I never worked in sketchbooks on a regular basis, like I do now. I would usually just conjure ideas in my mind and instantly go off and make them. There was no time to plan, it all needed to happen right away. This series is definitely my most considered collection in this respect. Sketchbooks full of shapes and ideas lead up to each painting. Colours often come later, and the layers seem to build as I discover each shape on its own terms on the paper/canvas.

Some pieces just happen, they work and feel instantly resolved. Others, I spend days, sometimes weeks labouring over until they are right, or still not right.

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You have said that you use the coastline as your inspiration that the shapes you uncover in the coast are what stick with you and translate to your work. Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your art?

Definitely —my work at university was ENTIRELY different to what I make now and this is purely because my personal circumstances, spaces, mind set and ways to express a certain experience have changed over the years. It’s usually in hindsight where I can see clearly why I was making a certain type of work or practicing in a particular way and it almost always comes down to a connection with ‘self’ at the time. The works derive from somewhere innately personal and I feel rather exposed and vulnerable, another element to why I like the paper and canvas to be exposed to its external environment.

This body of work has taken a leap and is so different to your earlier pieces, when we visited your studio you talked about the influence of your recent residency on this work. Can you tell us a bit about the experiences in Portugal and perhaps how this has influenced your work or your philosophy for Myths Moons and Mountains  work? 

My Portugal residency was my first trip, overseas alone. I knew I was capable of travelling alone for 2 months or even longer but I wasn’t aware of how independently invigorated it would make me feel. I think this played a large role in boosting my confidence as an artist, in a way it validated my practice and made me realise that I do have something unique to share.

It allowed me to feel more confident to experiment with new materials and to push my practice into new spheres. The philosophy behind this new collection is inspired by natural elements, out of our control forces and both internal and external shifts. For me this collection doesn’t seem to be a big leap, it feels like I have been working towards these pieces for a long time. It just took being out of my comfort zone to realise their potential.

It seems that artists are sometimes like sponges of the world, absorbing everything for inspiration and then creating work out of those experiences. What are you presently influenced by— are there particular things you are reading, listening to or looking at to inspire you?  

I definitely feel like a sponge. I absorb shapes, colours and strange memories, often without even realising. Then one day they re-appear in my work. I have a regular yoga practice, which I find influences my work profoundly. I create many parallels between my breath, my spirit and myself with the ocean through this practice, partly through the time I have at yoga to let go and be present. I’ve also been reading a lot about local mythologies —my dad often tells me stories about where we live and there are definitely certain elements that I’m drawn to.

What’s important to you when starting a new work, is it having time, the right space, a cup of tea? What is it that pushes you to a start? 

I often have drawings and ideas in my sketchbook, that literally force me to make a new work, it’s like a seed bursting to grow. Earlier this year I upgraded my studio space, to a much larger area, I think this has been fundamental to allowing changes to occur within my work. I believe that my works often mimic the spaces I work in and on that note, they often directly mimic me and who I am at any given time. So I find it’s pretty important that I feel comfortable and relaxed in the space I’m working in, before I begin a new work in order to translate relaxed energies.

2, HN-studio

So on the heels of finishing your arts degree, do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with? 

I think there is an evolving movement happening in art and design, actually in living in general as well. A movement, which is about the everyday, it’s about slowing down, being present and also about being ‘home’— wherever that may be.

There are so many artists that I feel are creating environments out of their art practice, creating spaces and conversations about the pleasure of doing what we do, and the craftsmanship that is involved. Stephen Clark (Den Holm), Jordana Henry, Lily Johannah, Jordan Kerwick and Emily Besser to name a few. The stickler for this movement, for me, is appreciating medium, and tending to one’s own work as a form of therapy and/or to work with one’s own energy.

I’ve had a few conversations lately about my work harking back to 70’s vibes or the Bauhaus era. Bauhaus was a period where craft, design and visual arts emerged as one and where the notion of the everyday but also of appreciation became apparent in the objects we owned as well as the products we made. I think this association with my work is very true —as my work fundamentally brings together a work of craft and fine art. It always has. It’s always been a merging of craft and fine art. This series fuses these elements, in a more traditional way, merging my paintings with the craftsmanship of bespoke frames for example. But with this series, we (my father and I) have fine-tuned our materials and our processes, to refine and master our craft even more. It’s by far more considered than it ever has been.

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