Like everyone else in Australia, Victorian artist Hannah Nowlan felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness during the summer of 2020. As a passionate lover of nature, watching the bushfires devastate large parts of the country left her searching for a way to sort through the wreckage.
During this time Hannah came across a hermit shell nearby her home in Black Rock, on the shores of Ricketts Point. ‘Singular and small, the object seemed to encapsulate my experience as an onlooker of the Australian bushfires’, Hannah explains. ‘I began painting, in the hope that the works would speak for me.’ And so the initial ideas for Portalis, Hannah’s latest exhibition, were first conceptualised, and then built upon during the rapidly unfolding health crisis.
Harvesting the experiences of a year like no other, Portalis is the result of many months of deep thought and creation. Although visually a new direction for Hannah, this body of 15 framed oil-on-linen artworks continues to explore the same themes long steeped within her practice; of afterlife and myth.
We’re SO thrilled to share this beautiful show! Unfortunately, due to restrictions in Victoria, we’re not going to be able to hang this show in our gallery as planned, and so Portalis will be an online-only exhibition. But the good news is that sales are now OPEN – get in touch with [email protected] to purchase!
Hannah chatted with us a bit more about the background behind Portalis, and her optimistic outlook on creation in this time of isolation. What a legend!
Hey Hannah! It’s been a while since we caught up. What have you been up to since we last spoke? ?
It feels like an eternity has gone by in the last 12 months, since our Chimera show!
Blissfully unaware, I exhibited in NSW during October 2019. Unknowingly Tim [Hannah’s partner], Jasper [their dog] and I travelled through most of the landscape which would become engulfed in flames only months following. It was a powerful time for artists participating in TDF’s Art Fights Fire auction, I was very proud to be involved.
This year, I’ve been working away in the studio on commissions and developing a series of hand-painted editions (very close to nearing completion), as well as traversing my way through a new body of work for my only solo exhibition this year. Much of which has been created in response to 2020s very surreal, almost biblical scenes.
I’ve always had a fiercely independent approach to art-making, preparing materials in-house with my dad, but during the health crisis this became even more engrained. It’s crucial to know your materials are not only environmentally friendly but local too. So after many years of trial, error and research, this year I have shifted my focus a lot, realising the power of sustainable methods and materials in my daily practice.
What has inspired the artworks in ‘Portalis’?
The very first artwork in the Portalis body of work was inspired by a hermit shell. Singular and small, the object seemed to encapsulate my experience as an onlooker of the Australian bushfires. Feeling helpless, I began painting its symbolism, in the hope that the works would speak for me. Not long after, the shell started to inform my experience of the health crisis as well.
A visual representation of incandescent embers in the sky—the shell was lucent with mystery and checkered in orange and the blue. Then a metaphor of withdrawal and retreat—the shell became a sentiment of our sheltered interiors, of hibernation, where we would return within to survive.
‘The burrowing’, ‘Portalis’, ‘Water horse’ and ‘Interior listening’ were the foundations for the show, and these large-scale works are definitely my favourite pieces. For me, they were the first tangible descriptions I could hold onto —of what felt like a world, a landscape, spiraling around me.
What other creative references do you draw on?
Perhaps unconsciously, I draw a lot from fashion. The way we wear clothes and experience our day to day lives through the comfortability of material is much the same as how I experience paintings. I like to believe our experiences and the environment are imbued into these materials—transparent layers adding memory, narrative, and context to each piece.
I also look to the history of a landscape, story, or personal narratives, to find my visual language. Often through the lens of symbolism, I take reference from animals, mythology, colours and textures, before stripping them back, abstracting them and drawing out fragmented elements, to be placed into a composition.
How has this period of lockdown/isolation informed your creative practice – are you finding yourself more or less inspired to make work?
I’m finding this period incredibly empowering in an artistic sense. I feel all my preconceived rules of what being an artist entails can be rewritten. I don’t know why I thought I couldn’t do this before – self- imposed rules holding me back, I guess. But given the insurmountable changes, we are currently facing on the daily, I figure now feels like the time to really dive in and create my own path.
It’s strange to feel that a lack of freedom, physically, is giving my mind a sense of escapism, that it’s never experienced before. I believe my practice will be different, moving forward from this strange period, and only I hope it becomes a closer reflection of myself.
That’s a great outlook in a challenging time! What else is making you feel positive?
Virtual exhibitions and online viewing rooms, some of the first of its kind, have been sparked by this period of lockdown. This will hopefully bring down some of the ‘outsider’ qualities people, even myself, feel when inside a gallery space. I’ve always tried to exhibit with gallery spaces that are an exception to this rule, TDF Collect is definitely one of them! BUT I still feel like galleries as a whole, have a long way to go.
There’s no longer any room for this uninviting (traditional/elitist) type of art experience. I really believe that this period of viewing art from the comfort of our own homes will ultimately be a really positive one, for artists and viewers. Hopefully, when gallery spaces can reopen, viewers can feel a newfound sense of confidence in viewing art, and gallery doors are wide open, welcoming us all inside.
Portalis by Hannah Nowlan
An online exhibition presented by TDF Collect
Thurs August 6th – 20th, 2020