Wilson St Gallery, Sydney, 2009
In Conversation: Hanna Kay and Rebecca Rass
RR: Hanna, in your earlier exhibitions, you've so thoroughly explored the inner working of natural elements, such as trees, roots, twigs and logs, rocks, bones and shadows. Where is your new show taking us now?
HK: My current interest is to explore the illusive nature of water as surface and the way it flows and interacts with other natural surfaces. When you pick up a stone from a river bed, its colours are dark and lush, but as the water evaporates it renders the stone a dull hue. So what is the real colour of a stone? When it is wet? Dry? In between? All of the above? This is the first time I’m diving into water, making it the subject matter of my painting. Hopefully I will not drown.
RR: in your new paintings, are you trying to dig deeper and further into the on-going creative process of your painting? Or, are you trying to do something you have not done before?
HK: When painting, I always try to do both - to reach deeper into my
on-going creative process and at the same time to do something I’ve not done before. In this show, even though all the works are new, I’m revisiting some elements from previous works.
RR: I may be wrong, but somehow I feel that the images with the twigs floating on water - beautiful as they are – I’ve encountered them many times before in your earlier paintings, where, I think, they’ve already reached their fulfillment.
HK: You are absolutely right. The images with the twigs are somehow older – the first attempts to engage with the current subject. Usually when I start a new body of work in which I hope to reach new(er) places, I begin by using elements with which I am familiar. It makes it easier for me to introduce and explore new issues.
RR: I think that the magic is to paint the water by its light and movement alone. All other elements seem mere crutches if not superfluous.
HK: Yes. I like the expression, sticks that are actually crutches. But it seems that I still need them. Right now I’m working on a journey down a river to its estuary, and in this eight meter, eight-panel painting, the rocks and sticks are there to depict the ebb and flow. In another painting, "Fata Morgana", (mirage), which is a journey through a desert - the dried wood emphasizes the lack of water. I don't expect to be able to walk without "crutches" so soon after the beginning of the current process.
RR: What is it in water that attracts you? Are there different kinds of waters? Different locations for water?
HK: I find the ethereal qualities of water very seductive. Its physical and optical properties fascinate me, as well as the way the illusive nature of the surface reflects its surroundings. Water has no intrinsic characteristics such as colour or form, and yet it causes its physical environment to be in a state of continual flux.
I am also fascinated by the reflections in/on the surface of the water. A reflection is not the object itself. It depends on the quality of the surface in which it is reflected, and on the condition of the light. It is a representation, mostly a distorted appearance of something that is somewhere else.
RR: Do you require a different strategy, new painting techniques, in order to capture in paint and canvas that which you are looking for in water? I mean, different technique from the ones you used for painting rocks and shadows, in order to capture the movement and light of water?
HK: Definitely. When I began exploring the subject I realized that to paint the kind of water that interested me, I had to change my approach. To switch from thinking about shapes to thinking about colours. Objects, such as trees, stones or grass, have become a vehicle for depicting zones of existence on/in/under an insubstantial surface. Instead of considering the form of an object and the light that illuminates its shape, I think in terms of fragmented colours and broken light patterns. Reflections of various elements become just another fluid fragments of colour. As a result, my brush strokes have changed. With regular, almost zigzagging movements, I create thin layers of oil paint. I use the brush as if it was a light breeze moving the colours on the surface of the canvas, resulting in surfaces that reflect shimmering yet silent surroundings.
RR: Do you feel that these Waterways paintings call for a specific arrangement in the gallery?
HK: Yes. I would like to display each one of the multi-panel paintings in a way that gives a sense of journey. Even though each of the panels that make up "Estuary", for example, could stand on its own, for the purpose of this exhibition I intend to hang them together. The same holds for the rest of the paintings on show. This is the idea. I will not be able to see if it works till we hang them.
Rebecca Rass, writer of ten books of prose and poetry, English
Professor at Pace University, New York, and contributor to TERMINAL