Intangible spirits and ghosts are an ongoing thread within Hannah Nowlan‘s practice, however the Melbourne artist’s fascination for these long-held interests has recently taken on new significance. ‘After losing my eldest brother to illness last year, the fabric I had built my identity upon; the thread between the eldest and youngest of seven siblings had been severed’ Hannah explains. ‘The complexities of what could be felt but not seen, that had interested me all this time, had become reality.’
‘The way I saw the natural world around me, the way I saw myself began to shift… It was only then, that I understood that resilience and fragility could coexist’ the artist reflects. ‘Now, as I walk down Half Moon Bay Pier and look out at the Cerberus, my brother’s presence and his legend are all I can see and feel. I meditate on his spirit; a feeling that is haunting yet therapeutic. Since his passing, this landscape has become a trail of omens, acting as reminders of the significance his absence has on the person I am today.’
The resulting body of work is Hannah’s most fluid and intuitive yet, combining a rich palette of earthy browns, murky greens, vivid indigos and chartreuse, with abstract symbols that explore themes of duality: Cerberus / Chimera, Truth / Myth, Sun / Moon, Heaven / Hell.
‘Some of the key elements that this body of work has solidified for me is the notion of ‘spirit’; something that can be felt but not seen’ Hannah concludes, adding ‘and, my ever grounding relationship with family and home.’
Hannah works from a studio at her parent’s home in Black Rock, and collaborates closely with her father (Grain of Descent) to stretch and frame her works. We’re thrilled to be opening this beautiful, intensely personal exhibition of Hannah’s latest paintings at TDF Collect, opening Saturday June 15th.
Hannah, tell us a little bit about how you came to study art and then pursue it as a career?
I’ve definitely grown up in a makers household, we are always making something new or fixing something old and both my parents are incredibly creative! There’s a photo in our family album of me painting half-naked as a child and it always makes me laugh that my mum has written; ‘Artist age 3’.
I vividly remember saying when I grow up I’ll either be a dancer or an artist, whichever I don’t get sick of first. I became super invested in my art practice during high-school when I was diagnosed with a chronic condition and had to stop dancing altogether. I used my art making as a way of education, self-enquiry and ultimately —therapy. I went on to study a Bachelors of Fine Art, specialising in Drawing and Printmaking at The Victorian College of Arts (VCA).
What has inspired the artworks in the forthcoming TDF collect exhibition?
I chose the title Chimera, for this exhibition for a number of reasons.
The word Chimera refers to two things, both of which really resonated with me. The definition is “something that is hoped for, but is an illusion” and it also refers to a “female, fire-breathing monster with a lions head, goats body, and serpent’s tail”.
Chimera, in Greek mythology, is also the sister sibling of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of the underworld, and is the name of the shipwreck at my home town of Black Rock, and also the title of my last solo exhibition.
I really relate to this fire-breathing female creature, a symbol of transition and the embodiment of both strength and fragility.
The symbolism of all these elements came together for this show; as I attempt to reflect on who I am, creating my own mythology for the morphing of who I am in the wake of losing my eldest brother, and the physical representation of his memory, his legend through my paintings.
Where do you create your work, and what techniques and processes do you use?
I create all of my work from my home-based studio in Black Rock. I work with oil paints and oil sticks on transparent primed Italian linen. Working closely with my Father, we build every element of my practice by hand from home. We also use locally sourced Tasmanian Blackwood for our frames.
Materiality and transparency are really important to me, so I love treating the raw materials I use with the utmost sense of care and value they deserve. I love letting the materials speak for themselves, leaving the linen raw/bare in areas of my works and allowing the natural nuances of the timber to be admired. I also feel these exposed/raw elements act as an entry point for the paintings to connect with their external environment.
What are you looking forward to about this show?
I’m really looking forward to sharing this body of work in its entirety. Whilst I have exhibited in both solo and group shows across Melbourne and Sydney, I’ve only exhibited in a formal gallery space last year in Sydney for the first time, so it will be great to see the works in this setting, especially seeing as the TDF collect gallery space really allows the pieces to communicate with one another. This body of work definitely feels like my most experimental yet fluid works to date.
What’s one thing our readers might be surprised to know about you?
I’m the baby of seven kids! I’m the last one living at home, in a pretty sweet unit in my parents’ backyard, built by my father and designed by my brother Michael.
If I’m not painting (it might not come as a surprise) but I’ll be down the beach on my SUP board, road tripping down the coast or going camping with my partner and our newest addition Jasper, a blue heeler puppy and the apple of my eye.
What will you be focussing on next?
Up next I’ll be back in the studio creating works for my November exhibition at Saint Cloche, Sydney.
In between shows, I’m also working behind the scenes on a zero-waste collection. Small-scale collectable works that utilise all of the linen remnants and timber offcuts in my studio so my practice can tread a little lighter on this beautiful earth. I think we are all feeling more conscious about the way we live and work.
Please join us and Hannah, for the opening of Chimera next Saturday, June 15th!
Chimera by Hannah Nowlan
June 15th to 20th
14 Little Oxford Street
Saturday 15th, 10:00am – 5:00pm, with opening drinks from 2:00pm – 5:00pm
Sunday 16th, 11:00am – 3:00pm
Monday 17th, CLOSED
Tuesday 18th, 10:00 – 4:00pm
Wednesday 19th, 10:00 – 4:00pm
Thursday 20th, 10:00 – 4:00pm