Edinburgh-based artist Hannah Ustun chats with me about developing an abstract painting practice and the importance of artistic community. I love the gestural, vibrant, patterned movement of the paint on these surfaces. More at the links below!
Can you tell me a little bit about you?
Originally from Sheffield, I am an artist currently based in Edinburgh. I graduated a couple of years ago from art school here in Edinburgh, and developed an affinity for the city, and Scotland, so have since decided to make it my home (for now, at least!).
When did you first discover art, or realize you wanted to make it yourself?
Impossible to pinpoint, this was something that evolved naturally and was an obvious interest of mine from an early age.
What ideas are you exploring in your practice?
Currently, I am seeking to engage with and challenge contemporary directions in abstract painting. Using methods to build up surface, creating additive and reductive marks, I aim to create a sense of depth and colour impact. Accordingly, the immediacy of painting and these subversive juxtapositions allow my works to delve confidently into
abstraction, playfully joining more traditional of media, (oil, canvas and board), with striking elements of contemporaneity.
In my newest series of work, each shift in palette, or distinction of mark, speaks to a broader focus with development and experimentation. The seduction of the paint and the history of the medium coupled with an awkward relationship with lack of source material lead to a process defined by the relentless application and removal of barely-there oils, occasionally held in place by a heavier mark, suggestive of something concrete, but denied an identity in the moment of
the paintings abandonment.
My work often adopts a pattern like effect or a repetitive gesture, with often bold colours layered and peeled back to create chance occurrences. Gestural marks define the ground of the paintings, a fluid kind of galvanised blanket; the directional strokes intending to activate the surface. Relatable to our age, the ‘drag ‘n’ drop era’, I think the marks become somewhat elusive. The swaths of colour and overlapping forms and impressions on the works surface, remind me of windows on a digital screen. These residual marks on the surface speak to the painterly, unapologetic marks for which I seek as an alternative.
My approach seems to oscillate between balancing an instinctive desire to create with a sensitive approach towards paint as a very tactile medium. I often work and rework paintings over hours, on a slippery (very primed, very sanded) surface. They seem to hover awkwardly, somewhere between precision and intuition. The gestural marks suggest a quick and spontaneous application, however in many ways the surface and often the application of the paint is very refined. It is over the course of this refinement that allows me to examine and re-examine variations of texture, pattern and affect. All of this is orchestrated through varying densities, duration, touch and so on. As a result, the marks made and the ground covered appears in a state of flux. A network of woven brush strokes, these paintings allude to a continuous web of pattern outside of the frame, making their dimensions more obvious, reiterating the confinement of their dimensions.
What is your process like?
My work is deeply rooted in research both relative to contemporary practices in painting but also the history of the medium. I hope that translates evidently somewhere in my work. My practice is invested in a constant curiosity, a struggle, an exploration with a medium that continues to surprise and satisfy me.
My process is one of an intentionally spontaneous nature. During my most recent series of work at least, this is of great importance as part of the making of the work. They are usually completed in one sitting, and often I find that if they take too long to make, I feel unsatisfied with them. They appear tired or over-worked, stubborn almost.
When did you first start experimenting with the gesture as a central aspect of your painting?
This has been an ongoing preoccupation, throughout a series of work that I started around May last year. It seemed a natural progression to me. Focusing on process and the material qualities of paint, it seemed fitting to experiment with the tools and mark making inherent to the painting medium. It is also, or certainly started out as, a more liberating practical approach and by means of image-making, and in turn offered a more obvious element of spontaneity which I was looking for.
Do you have a mentor, or a piece of advice (or both), which has influenced your practice?
I count myself very lucky to have many fellow artist friends, who offer continuous and unwavering support to one another. The sense of artistic community here is very compelling.
What about community, with other artists or in other ways, is most meaningful for you?
I think there’s a strong sense of camaraderie and support within the art scene in Edinburgh which I value a lot. Everyone seems very supportive and encouraging generally of other’s projects and so on. Having worked as an artist and also in galleries in Edinburgh for years this has always seemed to be the case. A lot of my closest friends are also artists, and it is hugely inspirational and enjoyable working around such talented people, too. I think the city of Edinburgh and the fact that it isn’t hugely intimidating, and that the community seems approachable and engaging, helps in facilitating new projects and supporting younger and emerging artists.
What is your studio like?
I share a studio with one of my best friends, and it’s great. It has bright light, walls, hot water and a microwave for heating up baked beans. What more could you possibly want.
Do you have any routines or rituals in the studio that get you into a creative frame of mind?
Certainly, returning to drawing, and methods that are more orientated around practical outputs, rather than focussing on my practice from a think-heavy, remunerative place seems to get me in a creative mood. If I get stuck, or in a bit of a rut, making through means of drawing, mono-printing, collaging; processes that facilitate instantaneous results are always catalysts for new ideas. Or, at least they provide enjoyment and usually material to work from later.
What do you find most daunting, challenging, or frustrating about pursuing art?
I think there’s always an expectation for the artist to know all the answers. I think it’s just as important to ask questions.
Being skint all the time can also present its challenges.
What are you working on right now?
About 10 months ago I manufactured roughly 40 boards, all the same size, in a local wood workshop. I set myself the challenge of continuing to play out my thoughts and ideas on these boards, expecting to run myself in to the sand with it, really. However, if anything, I’m only accumulating more and more ideas, and a more frantic hunger to continue in creating these little paintings, as I come to the end of what has been a really enjoyable project.
Whilst making them my approach has fluctuating over periods of time. There are certainly pairings within the series, or series within the series if you like.
Most recently, I have found myself creating quite patterned surfaces. Here there is a more intense focus on rhythm and pace, something which I certainly neglected more at the start of the project.
Basically, the experience has given me so much scope in terms of development and enjoyment with experimenting with these works, and what I thought at the beginning would permit small parameters for progression, but has in fact had the opposite effect.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for taking the time to have a read!