AIR Cycle 9 Highlight: Hannah Whelan
What was your trajectory like as an artist?
I went to N.C.A.D., National College of Art and Design, for four years where I specialized in textile design, it was a very open ended course, which was compelling to me. We focused heavily on the manipulation of materials through classic and alternative process . This ranged from huge installations, embroidery, weaving to photography – it really was anything!
Is the work you’re making now similar to that of N.C.A.D. or was it a later development for you?
Yes it is definitely somewhat similar. I have always treated my whole studio space as a creative lab, like a gigantic canvas for me to execute these ideas that manifest. The small sampling and experiments I compile creates this ecosystem within my studio space which overall creates this immersive bubble depicting the inner workings of my mind..sorta like a 3D mind map.
What does your body of work look like now?
At the moment my work is at an in between phase. I have been doing lot of research into material handling and processes. Enabling me to to embark on a large project of experimenting with some new tools and materials such as cement, rubber, fibers and paint.
How did you first become interested in working with textiles?
It’s so interesting because in N.C.A.D. we do this first year where you get to experiment with all faculties, so you can try anything. I tried fashion and I nearly lost my mind. I tried sculpture and it was far too open ended, and then a mentor, recommended for me to try textiles. I did and it just opened up a whole other world that I didn’t think existed.
Is there a particular process or technique that you come back to?
Painting and drawing. I never thought of myself as a draughtsman but my paintings are actually quite popular. I stopped painting for a while, because I didn’t have space, but now I’m back to doing large scale paintings. It has never been my main focus but regardless of what I am creating there is always a paintbrush that has touched the work.
So take me through a day in your studio practice- how do you work?
The first thing I do I probably come in and have coffee and water the plants. Then ill set up my space for whatever i am about to tackle and plug in to a podcast or maybe music, jazz, preferably.
What was it about textiles that made it work for you? What does it do for you that other mediums don’t?
Honestly, I think it’s the experimental side that drives me most, the unpredictable and experimental is something that I’ve always firmly believed in, and I feel like I’ve followed through with that in my practice.
How would you like people to experience your work? Is it meant to be tactile, for them to touch it, in a gallery space, as design?
I find that when I manifest an idea, I always think of how something will impact the audience. I hope that the audience can get the same pleasure by immersing themselves or utilizing my designs as I do in creating it.
One reason I introduced plants into my work in the first place was to have that element of contact…we have to maintain and be in contact with them to keep them alive. So yes! Touch all my work!
So what are some of your other interests, outside of the studio?
Fishing, photography, owning plants… exploring. I love to explore obscure parts of the city by skating or cycling around.
Your colour palette within your work has transitioned from the monochrome black and white to this vibrancy that now exists in your studio, can you talk about that transition?
That, absolutely was due to moving to New York, which I’m still surprised at. I never thought I had any real idea or concept of what colours go together, I still don’t know if I do, it’s still developing, but it is definitely down to the vibrant personality of New York.
How has the residency at TAC changed your work?
It has challenged me in so many ways! It’s made me talk and think differently about my work as a designer/artist. I don’t specifically label myself as a designer or artist necessarily, but it’s made me think that I can have more of an experimental side(art) , but I can also have a more design based side. It’s okay to have two different parts to who you identify yourself as. Before, I had this belief that I had to pick one lane and go with it..now I go between both art and design.
What’s the difference for you, between design and art?
Design is something that is a very polished object or concept, something that has some sorta function whereas art is far more abstract…we don’t expect art to provide us with a function.
Who are some of the artists you look at or who have inspired your work?
Yikes! There are so many! To name a few I would say Mark Rothko, Eva Hesse, Helen Frankenthaler, Bernadette Madden, Matisse and of course Hockney for his colors.
Your work feels very contemporary, do you ever feel a pull between the traditional mediums of textile work and the contemporary art and design world?
It is contemporary but I am always inspired by traditional process. I generally look to traditional techniques and interperterate it in my own way. Many times it is a flop however I learn so much from physically trying it out!
Do you have any dream projects?
Ohhh gosh so many! To pick just one it would be to paint murals. The scale and accessibility of the art is what attracts me. I love nothing more that to collaborate with environments and other artist and designers that challenge me.
Do you have anything else you’d like people to know?
As a maker and creative thinker do not hesitate to step outside of the norm. What could be perceived as textiles to one onlooker could embody a painting to another. Bend the rules and have fun with the freedom of being in control of your practice.