This artist cuts into paint to make images of wildlife appear

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Christchurch-based New Zealand and British artist Hannah Jensen talks about painting in reverse, where all layers of paint are first applied and then cut out to reveal what’s in her heart.

You were born in 1984 in Bath. Tell me about where you were born and raised, your background and your upbringing.

I was born in Bath, but our family lived in a small village called Longbridge Deverill, about 30 minutes from the city. We lived in a 250-year-old farmhouse that my mom and dad had renovated. A simple life with mom who was an incredible potter and my dad a truck driver. I remember wanting to be an artist when I was about four. I knew the word, I knew it meant I could make things – that sounded like magic to me.

When did you move from England to New Zealand and when did you live in Africa?

I moved to New Zealand when I was 22 months old with my mother and brother, and I am so grateful to have grown up in this beautiful country. Mother is from New Zealand so coming home was special for all of us. I’ve never lived in South Africa, but have been there about six times between the ages of eight and 32 to spend time with my father. I spent two months there when I was 21 and made 17 pieces of art for Dad’s properties at the time. All my visits are cherished for the time spent in nature with the incredible wildlife there. It also helped that the last five trips have been to Dad’s own game reserve, which he bought in 2000 and where he spent the last 16 years of his life.

How have these countries influenced you?

The greatest influence of all is nature, the time spent hiking and exploring these incredible landscapes. In New Zealand, my partner and I love the outdoors very much and enjoy walking, cycling and surfing. In South Africa it was the wild animals that stole my heart. I would walk through Dad’s game reserve for hours while I was with the animals: warthog, kudu, impala, giraffe, wildebeest, baboon, hippo and more.

How did you (accidentally) come up with the idea to cut in paint in 2003 after carving on wood?

I loved the idea of ​​white and wood, that very Scandinavian style we know today. So I started applying white paint – it was just house paint. I had a big can and started layering. My first two works were each 2,100 x 1,200 mm. I imagined carving through the white paint into the wood, but 23 coats later, when I finally ran out of paint and couldn’t put it off any longer, I drew these beautiful birds and started carving. At first I was annoyed by how thick it was, but within seconds this was when the light went out and I knew I could cut into the paint. My first paint cuts were shallow in the white paint for highlights and deeper in the wood for shadows – they were pretty amazing. In the end it was a very blunt tool, I had no idea how to sharpen it or if I could buy handles with interchangeable heads, but I knew I would return the next and final year of college to experiment with this technique. experiment. And that’s what I did, like a mad scientist, trying every possible combination of layers. This recipe is still very similar to what I’m using now.

When did you make your first sculpted painting and what was its subject?

At the end of 2003 before finishing my second year at university. Flying gannets on one plate with nesting gannets on the other.

Are you the only artist in the world who uses this technique?

However, I was with the power of social media and I shared my day to day studio practice, this technique has traveled the world and there are now amazing people all over the world cutting into paint.

How does your formal training in printmaking from the Auckland University of Technology influence the artworks you create today?

The formal techniques of college days—intaglio, screen printing, lithography, and etching—were all stepping stones that got me into paintcutting. I started to find my passion for detail. It was the way the teachers helped you push ideas through that was a big help in college. I loved learning all the different mediums but also knew I liked the one time rather than the multiple. Researching Japanese woodblocks and their beautiful aesthetics somehow brought me back to the woodblock itself.

Describe to me your artistic language and philosophy.

I love to create, using my hands to create images that come to me from a soul level; I feel them, then I see them, develop them in my head and carve them to life with my technique through layers of paint. It’s like reverse painting, all the layers are applied first, then I show what has been in my heart. When I’ve been thinking about an idea for years, it’s a magical moment to finally finish that work. A good idea sticks around until it’s time to make it. I believe that art is a wonderful visual language for conveying ideas and topics that are often not talked about enough, or you see headlines in the paper or on your phone all the time and flip through them because we are so overloaded with content these days. I love being able to create a body of work that people can actually come up with and interact with and be moved by the story of it. I’ve actually only done two shows in my career that come close to this, which I’m really proud of. I try to do more emotional carvings as I progress in my career. Even 19 years after starting this technique, I feel there is so much more to be gained from my works. It’s like I’ve been practicing for the past two decades so that I can make the works of my dreams. I’ve also had the honor of working with hundreds of clients to create their dreams and bring their ideas to life. I’m now at a turning point where I’m diving back into my own work.

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