Hannah Nowlan is an emerging artist having completed her Bachelors in Fine Art Drawing and Printmaking with Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in 2015, Hannah currently works out of her home studio as a visual artist and partner in her family business ‘Grain of Descent’. In this conversation we chat about her career journey, influences and self care practices.
Considerably influenced by the surf culture of Victoria’s coastline, your work attempts to communicate the relaxed and therapeutic atmosphere of Australia’s vast natural landscapes. Has place always played a role in your practice, and where do you believe this stemmed from?
My practice is a form of therapy and release, in order to process the world around me. I do believe my art practice is subconsciously and consciously very in-tune with my my surroundings both internally and externally at any given time. It has been this way for as long as I can remember and in many ways, this notion is at the crux of why I make in the first place.
My physical and emotional state plays a large role in shaping the artwork I create which can be directly influenced by place, as well as person. It's obvious to see the visual changes within my work over the past few years, as my inner and outer surroundings have changed they transpire within my work in different forms. Most of my paintings can take on very literal interpretations of a present moment however the language I use to process these feelings are quite symbolic rather than factual, leaving the works not as illustrations but as abstractions.
You took part in a residency at the University of Lisbon Faculty of Fine Art in Portugal, no doubt this was a career highlight! How has this experience shaped your practice, and would you ever do something like it again?
This international artist residency was a real game changer for my practice. It allowed me the time to experiment and trial whilst also build a more primitive approach to image making. The change of scenery but also the culture and exposure to a mythological history of Portugal was very enchanting and inspiring. It definitely gave me more confidence in my own work and the drive to push myself out of my comfort zone.
I’m definitely considering partaking in another artist residency program, hopefully, early next year. I’m not sure where yet but I am leaning towards staying within Australia but perhaps travelling somewhere rural and outback.
"My art practice is subconsciously and consciously very in-tune with my surroundings both internally and externally at any given time...this notion is at the crux of why I make in the first place."
Beyond painting you work across several disciplines, such as ceramics, leatherwork, dressmaking and furniture making. Do you find that these mediums influence each other, and what made you pursue other artistic expressions?
I see myself more as a maker rather than a painter. I’ve always been making things ever since I was really young and I believe creativity has been ingrained in me from my childhood. Because of this I see my practice as stemming across many mediums and disciplines in order to create whatever it is I feel inspired to make. I feel that limiting yourself to just one medium can often hinder creativity rather than allowing it to flourish. Some ideas work beautifully in image form, where as others are best developed with functional uses or are apart of the everyday.
Grain of Descent is your family’s business, consisting of your father and mother, brother and you. You each work together to create a variety of unique handcrafted and handmade goods. It must be amazing to work with family, how did this evolve and was it something you had always planned to do?
My brother and I had been thinking of the idea for awhile but it wasn’t always our plan. I guess as we grew up, we could see how lucky we were to have such a creative family. We felt it would be important to embrace it as much as we could. Our parents were our key inspiration and as they had both recently retired we felt like it would be the perfect time to start a family creative endeavour. Where we are now with Grain of Descent feels like only one tree in a growing forrest. We hope to evolve the family business a lot further over the next few years. I feel very lucky to be able to work so closely with my family and help them follow their creative passions like I am.
I stumbled upon your work when your collaboration with Bear was released. Instantly, I was enamoured by the colours and forms used. How did the Bear collaboration come to be, and can you tell me a little more about the process of creating art for packaging?
The BEAR collaboration was a wonderful adventure and something that is very different to what I normally do, but when I was contacted by BEAR’s graphic designer Dylan McDonough and given the brief, I knew that our paths had aligned for a reason! As the collaboration was released just at the end of 2017 I felt a very pressing urge to see where my art practice could extend in the form of the everyday and what better way to bring this to life than by working with such a unique company like BEAR. Dylan selected exisiting works from my Archive that he and Bear felt worked well with their High Summer duo sets and from their he worked his magic! It’s really beautiful to see two of my artworks take on a new life particularly in forms where touch, ritual and routine of ones everyday are involved.
"I think word of mouth is an amazing thing, you trust your friends, and share what you love, so think its a really valuable source of marketing".
Your new body of work is set to open at Modern Times on the 16th of August. Can you tell me a little more about this body of work?
his will be my second major solo exhibition at Melbourne gallery, Modern Times. The show will contain over twenty original works, Oil on Linen, all framed in Tasmanian Blackwood by my Father through Grain of Descent.
This new series has been an incredibly cathartic collection, that has allowed me to process emotions of loss whilst attempting to comprehend the notion of the ‘beyond’. A singular and brief text by The Broad Place has ignited my inspiration for this entire exhibition. This text contained the following metaphors; ‘If things go wrong, don’t go with them’ — by Roger Babson and ‘We’re not on sinking ships, at any moment we can make a decision to change direction’ — by Jacqui Lewis which propelled me forward when I needed it most which ultimately triggered this new body of work.
The collection of original works for my exhibition are a raw and emotional uncovering of a submerged landscape. The paintings lay bare similar perspectives to ocean floor topography where the depths of sinking below of the surface emerge from layers of colour, texture and tone. The paintings will depict still waters and eery expanses of darkness to emulate a feeling of letting go and sinking whilst being holistically soaked and enveloped. Colour will vary from a glistening surface and a guiding light, to a smoky patina of depth, to an all enveloping darkness of a matte stroke.
Your work is often photographed amongst picturesque landscapes, further emphasising what you’ve described as the “the boundary between object and image, landscape and home, fable and reality”. I’d love to know what goes into planning these shoots, and are they essentially an extension of the body of work?
Photographing my work on location has been a relativity new venture for my practice. I am very fortunate to be working with local photographer Suzi Appel to bring these shoots to life. We are both familiar with the sites we have chosen for each shoot, we’ve lived in it all our lives. I do believe that this familiarity allows us to capture the natural beauty of these sites without making them feel artificial or disconnected.
You’re right though, these shoots are definitely an extension of the work itself and in many ways re-enforces the concepts and influences behind why I made the artworks. I believe the landscapes we are selecting provide a grounding context for the artworks whilst also being transcendent of time and space.
In terms of logistics, many hands are needed to set up the artworks en-plain-air and a lot of flexibility is needed in order to work with the natural elements rather than working against them. The weather conditions have to be just right so we allow a week or sometimes more so we can choose the best day to shoot. We are often waiting with baited breathe in hope that the wind dies down or the rain holds off but in many ways this only enhances of the ‘rawness’ and authenticity I’m trying to evoke within the paintings after all.
"This new series has been an incredibly cathartic collection, that has allowed me to process emotions of loss whilst attempting to comprehend the notion of the ‘beyond’. A singular and brief text by The Broad Place has ignited my inspiration for this entire exhibition".
Do you have a morning routine? How do you like to start your day, and is there any rituals you live by?
I enjoy quite a flexible morning routine of making the bed, opening all the curtains to let light rush into my window-lined home and a quick Aesop cleanse and moisturise. However, the key element to my morning rituals revolves purely around coffee. I live in a self-contained unit in the backyard of my parents home and my studio space, where I work, is inside the main house; so every morning without interruption I make myself and my dad a coffee before we begin the day. The smell and ritual of coffee making has become a practice I really enjoy. I’ve recently fallen in love with MotherSky coffee whom focus on honouring tradition and making time, which I feel are both so important to my art practice.
Finally, I’d love to know a woman who inspires you.
I couldn’t think of a more perfect introduction to Jacqui Lewis founder of The Broad Place as the guide to the inspirational source included in my text above for my new exhibition. I love when you feel that a door has literally opened before your eyes and you begin to see with a whole new perspective. Reading a single text from The Broad Place allowed me to see again, with a breathe of understanding.