Monday, 28 July 2014

I'm Only Human: Artist Interview with Hannah Vandermolen

Hannah Vandermolen © Jenna Putnam

Artist, illustrator, model and muse Hannah Vandermolen's work is a matter of perspective and natural instinct - the thematic elements of her paintings framing the human form and showing the worth of our exploration - breaking down the mysterious in all of us.
Marking her canvases to the soundtrack of life and how we as human's exist and interact within our worlds, here she gives me an insider's tour of her visual technique which brings the inner workings of the mind, body and soul to the fore.

Describe your earliest experience with art - and how did you then introduce it into your own life?

Both of my parents are artists. My Mum is a photographer and my Dad worked as an illustrator and filmmaker for a time. My Grandparents on my Dad’s side were also portrait artists and most of my parent's friends were creative types working in mediums ranging from painting to photography to sound design to animation. 

I was very much immersed in the art world from the beginning of my life. My father began teaching me how to draw when I showed an interest as a toddler. When I was about three he started to bring me to our local park and we would sketch the trees for hours. He taught me how to study what I was looking at before attempting to sketch it. Things progressed from there.

What has been the greatest influence on your visual style as your work has evolved?

I think my specific influences are always in flux, so this is hard to say. I’m pretty simple. 

I tend to gravitate toward the familiar and the little anomalies in my daily surroundings – things that could easily go unnoticed. This could be the degree of saturation in the light hitting the side of a building, the way people press together uncomfortably on the train, the way water abstracts form, a chapter in a book I’m reading, a stroll through the Science Museum...
My biggest inspiration comes from taking notice of what is simple, habitual, common and maybe even peripheral but subtly beautiful. I just want to take these images and break them apart, know them from the inside out and try to explain to everyone in a visual way what we find so arrestingly beautiful and human about them.

What kind of workspace is around you when you create - day? night? minimal? cluttered? music playing?

I would say my studio is full but tidy. I like to keep a lot of inspiring things around me - books, magazines, reference images, movies and records - but I like them to be organised. The time of day I work is generally dependant on when I have castings and if I’ve booked jobs. If I have a shoot during the day and I need to work on art, sometimes I’ll just stay at my studio all night until I feel satisfied with the amount I’ve accomplished. In some ways I think I like the night-time studio sessions the best. I feel a little sneaky, like I’m not supposed to be there. I can put my music on loud and no one is around to hear it. It’s exhilarating, and that feeling gets the creative juices flowing.

Do you have any particular rituals before you create?

If I’m painting I like to lay out my pallet with all the paints I plan to use. I might add more later or decide to only use a few colours, but squeezing out all the paint is meditative, and it’s also like a pre-emptive strike. Setting up the paint gets my brain working so that when I make the first mark on the canvas it isn’t so intimidating - I already have a game plan. 
I don’t feel like that first mark has to be something impressive and grandiose. Same thing with drawing, sometimes my pre-drawing ritual is just to get charcoal or graphite all over my fingers so that they feel like they’ve already been working on something. Beginning is often the hardest part. 

Do you deliberately challenge yourself with each new piece, or do you just let the mood take you?

There is an element of both when I’m working, and the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If I’m not challenging myself then I’m not learning anything new. If I’m not learning anything new then I’ll be bored and un-invested in the work. Humility is important to me. I have developed skills through my practice, but I will always be a student. There is no limit to what I can learn. For me, creating a piece should always start as a mystery, and as I work I should come close to solving it but never really get there. That’s where the drive lies. If I only did what I already knew how to do well my creative process would just become assembly-line art making. It would become a chore.

When I look at your work, the human form in abstract is just one of the descriptions I keep coming back to. How would you define your aesthetic territory?

Right now it’s fairly abstract. Before it was pretty representational. I don’t want to define it because that feels limiting, and I have no idea what will happen next. One consistency is that I love the human figure, so I think I will always try to maintain at least an element of that in my work.

There is also a lot of play with contrast in your work - organic experimentation with colours, shape and texture. What does that say about you personally?

If I could choose an additional profession I would be an astrophysicist. I crave to understand how things fit together from their most fundamental and basic elements outward. Since I am terrible at Maths I need to explore this visually. 
When I paint I am not copying the subject in front of me to canvas. I am trying to break down form into its most minuscule particles. When I look at something I can’t help but wonder how it is put together. A person is made up of their anatomy, muscles that are at work to create certain expressions, and generic mathematical proportions. But there is obviously a lot more to people than that. If everything I see has shape, form, and light creating patterns of colour and value, these are just markers to lay a foundation for a portrait. The most challenging and exciting aspect of painting a person is trying to capture the unpredictable human element that can’t be explained.

Your favoured medium is oil painting - what do you enjoy about it?

I am not as good a painter as I am an illustrator. I love drawing, but it feels very familiar to me, almost easy. I’ve done it my entire life. I’m constantly learning new things in both mediums, but with oil painting I feel I am learning in leaps and bounds whereas with drawing I feel like they are slower, more thoughtful steps. The benefit (and sometimes the curse) of working with oil as opposed to acrylic is that it takes a long time to dry, so it gives me plenty of time to tweak and play with different ideas without feeling like I’m married to any particular one. Painting keeps me honest and on my toes. I have so much to explore, and the process is a lot of fun.

If art is in essence a conversation - what are you striving to communicate in your work?

To create a sense of wonder about what might ordinarily go unnoticed.

What do you think is the natural route for young artists in this age of the transience of social media, where pseudo-connectivity is a way of self-expression? How do you ensure your work has real meaning?

Sometimes social media is just a means to an end. Since it is the platform that most of us use to stay connected these days and can provide a greater audience for an artist, I feel there is a kind of choice we have to make with it. Either fight against it or work it to your benefit. I’m of the latter persuasion. I think things like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook can be great tools for creatives of all mediums to meet and share ideas and influence each other. I know they have helped me a lot with both modeling and painting. 
Social media may not be the most ideal way of sharing work or ideas or even interacting with one another, but it is still one way of doing these things. If you have a tool, why not use it?

Which other artists inspire you?

Off the top of my head, I’m inspired by Milton Avery, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Degas, Elmer Bischoff, Euan Uglow, David Park, Kaethe Kollwitz, Goya, Tintoretto, Lucian Freud, Beckmann, Seurat, Da Vinci’s drawings, Durer, Dana Schutz, Rodin, Miro, Klee, Maplethorpe, Edward Burtynsky. 
I also get a lot of ideas from watching movies, lately it's been spaghetti westerns and director Chan Wook-Park’s horror movies as they are really visually imaginative. I also listen to music - putting on a good punk mix can really change the way I draw. Everything has an impact. It’s all great source material.

You're hosting the ultimate dinner party with 3 artists (dead or alive) - who would be there and why?

Antonio Lopez Garcia is my favourite living painter, so him for sure, although I might be too intimidated to talk to him. I’d like to see Andy Warhol and Odd Nerdrum make polite dinner conversation - apparently after meeting him in person Nerdrum painted a portrait of Warhol eviscerated. I guess he didn’t like his art much! 
[The painting, "Amputation" depicts the grisly body of a disembowelled man, rumoured to be based on Warhol and was created by Nerdrum as a rejection of the modern art movement].

You’re based part-time in LA where the art-scene has been electrified by emerging eclectic and rebellious artists - how does the city inspire you on a daily basis?

LA is very different from NYC. I think that it has a sort of undeveloped personality, and this gives the artists living there a lot of freedom to be expressive. I see a lot of talent and new ideas emerging all the time – and also a lot of collaborative work covering many mediums. There are a lot of influences feeding into the work coming out of LA, ranging from street art to performance to fashion to the commercial and film industries. 
In some ways because LA is still developing its own voice a lot of the art there doesn’t seem to fall under any specific category. I do prefer the scene in New York just because I grew up on the East Coast and have a special connection with the style of life and art there, but I see LA as becoming a very prominent force in the art world. Perhaps one day it will dominate the scene in the US.

Talking of California life, your latest ‘Underwater' series is heavily influenced by poolside experiences - can you explain how that came about?

Pools are kind of a staple in Los Angeles since the weather is consistently nice. I was swimming one day and noticed the way water warped my limbs. I’ve noticed this a million times, and it’s always funny, but something clicked this time. What struck me was the way water broke apart my body into shapes, and the high saturation of the reds, oranges and pinks in my skin against the green-blue of the water really lit a flame in me. I needed to paint it. It occurred to me that water naturally does what I have been trying to do when I paint – it abstracts objects, breaking them down into shapes and colours.

When you’re not painting and illustrating, you’re also a model and muse - do the two worlds ever influence and impact one another?

Yes, they greatly influence each other. Because I’m an artist too I think I have knowledge of the creative process and an idea of what the photographer and team is looking for in a subject. I know what it’s like to look at a a model and be inspired by a certain movement or an expression or a dynamic pose. 
I am beginning to work with photographers as both an artist and a model, using illustrative and painting techniques in our collaborations. I recently did a series of photographs with Magdalena Wosinska where I painted myself as different paintings and we shot in different parts of downtown LA. I’m very inspired by artists like Alexa Meade and Liu Bolin who have also explored this idea. (See the full shoot HERE). 

All works of art are effectively fleeting and disposable. Do you think about the mortality of each piece you create?

I don’t really think about that, no. Each piece I create is like a research project. I have a question I want answered, and I try to find the answer through the process of painting. When I feel satisfied with what I’ve discovered I’m ready to move on. Once I put a piece out into the world or sell it it isn’t really mine anymore. It becomes separate, open to interpretation, changeable, even fleeting and disposable. And I like that. That’s a reflection of life. 
Part of the joy of making art for me is knowing when to accept it as finished and release it. 

As the human spirit is ultimately at the core of your work, what is the endgame of higher consciousness for you?

I don’t think I have an end-game in mind. It would be nice to reach people through making art, and it would be great to better understand myself through the process as well. But I think that those things will come with time. 
I guess I just feel it’s important to be present in the moment and to always maintain humility and curiosity with what I love. For now, I just want to enjoy the creative exploration as much as I have been and stay inspired. 

What does the future hold - what’s next project-wise for you?

I’ve got some great commissions coming up, lots of fun collaborations and shoots I’m looking forward to, but I don’t want to give anything away yet! 
I’m also trying to put together a body of work for a show and I’ve got an exciting music project on the horizon - singing, playing guitar, maybe even throw in a musical saw. You know, just trying to keep busy! [laughs].

All Images © Hannah Vandermolen

To see more of Hannah's work, head to her website HERE.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...