Hannah Sullivan, 2020

This is the next instalment in our lockdown digital exhibitions. We interviewed Hannah as part of our proposal to offer insight into how practising artists were coping with these unprecedented times. She has provided us with a window into her current practice and inspiration.

1- Who are you?

My Name is Hannah Sullivan and I’m a young British artist living and working in Manchester, UK.

2- What is your artistic practice?

I consider myself to be a multi-disciplinary artist, but a painter foremost. Getting to where I am now has taken extensive research of materials and a lot of bad paintings, but I’d say what most directly got me to this point was exhausting all my ideas and practice as a whole. I used to exclusively make work around the human figure, as I saw it as the most relatable subject through which I was able to express myself through. I made detailed line drawings which I often struggled to transfer through painting. I was very comfortable in drawing, so naturally there came a time where I felt as if I had exhausted all interest and everything came to a halt. It wasn’t until I saw Antoni Tapies work in the MOMA, Barcelona that something clicked in my mind, and I was able to hit the ground running in the studio with total new direction once I was back. His work challenged my rigid ideas of media and expression of experience, the work inspired me to reach out into non-painterly media and find grounding within natural pallets. My work has undergone a complete transformation since this point and continues to change. I’ve found a way to remain experience and figure focused whilst not applying any literal symbols or shapes. I’ve found through my work I am still able to express my relationship and interest with the human form whilst allowing the work to be open, vague enough for the viewer to also experience relatability.

I think for every artist, lockdown has been tricky. Without access to studios, it is meant that my creative space has changed dramatically. Having recently moved house my new studio had become the small concrete space out back. This concrete space was most definitely a luxury given the circumstances of others during this turbulent time, but was definitely not an adequate space to work. Not only was I restricted by the space, but to only painting when it wasn’t raining (living in Manchester, UK this happens a lot). Before my studio closed completely, I was able to make myself a variety of frames to work with in preparation for the coming months. When painting in lockdown I’ve found parts of my process have changed, or perhaps adapted. Not wanting to waste any resources as being restricted to ordering online can be costly and take up time, instead of scrapping work that has no potential I simply take the fabric off the frame, flip it over and stretch it backwards. The back of the fabric is an entirely new surface with its own textures and stains. It gives the painting a whole new perspective that I haven’t been able to control, and I’m forced to work with this new outcome. I’ve been trailing new solutions of paint too – using materials like latex, bleach, or cement. The more worldly elements like cement, sand, and dirt that I now routinely use reference the wider context, and natural inspirations to my ideas. Usually my starting point with a painting is the surface I’m painting on, however now being restricted to what fabric I can find cheapest on Ebay (which is often flat and textureless), I am finding the need to develop ways in which to build my own foundations. I know everyone has spoken about using this time in lockdown to be innovative and to adapt – which of course is what we do as artists – but it’s not been without struggle.

3- What are you currently working on? (virtual exhibitions, creative movements, collaborative projects, maintaining production of work)

Whilst being fortunate enough to have my work across several online exhibitions during this time, the most recent project I’ve been heavily involved with has been Studio Scum Volume II The Anti-Manifesto. Scum Volume II was a zine made with the artist collective (Studio Scum) that I am a part of, as a follow up to our first zine released last year. We took submissions from across our community, creating a space to share work – which after the scandal of cancelled degree shows and other exhibitions was much needed. Ideally, we would have had a launch night with a physical zine for purchasing however given the state of the world at the time, that wasn’t an option. We were able to make the zine accessible digitally, alongside a VR exhibition which can be found here: https://www.artsteps.com/view/5ec822fe6f8c8a159a871a5d along with the zine here: 

Now lockdown restrictions have lifted, it’s now a lot safer to be in the studio which I’m extremely grateful for. I’m currently working to ease myself back into painting. There’s a certain rhythm that you develop when you work constantly, which for me was definitely lost over lock down. Working up that momentum in the studio again is what I am prioritising. I find working without pressure in this way is allowing space for accidents, and new ways of working. A lot of tricks I began using during lockdown I’m beginning to find space for in my more formal work. Things seem to be evolving rapidly which is really exciting!

4- What is next? – How, if at all, has this pandemic inspired further progression?

As I’m currently studying and entering my final year, what’s next is my degree show. Having been restricted to frames made to fit into small spaces that I made out of panic in those last days of March, come September I’ll be massively scaling up and being much more ambitious with my work. Being locked away with limited space and supplies has brought a newfound confidence that I’m excited to bring to the studio. This is alongside new ideas that have been bottled up, and new materials I’ve started using, previously out of necessity, now I’m able to use them strategically. I think a lot of artists will feel a sense of no holding back now things are getting slightly back to normal.

5- Where can we find you? Extra projects you are working on, social media, website, exhibitions you will be in, etc.

You can get in contact with me and see my works on https://hannahsullivan.myportfolio.com/ and also follow my Instagram for regular updates @navillus__ , all work from my upcoming degree show will be able to be found here. My work can also be found alongside others I work with closely on the Studio Scum website, and social medias that can be found on our linktree https://linktr.ee/studioscum


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