Welcome to Prints on Wood!

POW Chats: A Conversation with Painter Moira Hahn

print_on_wood_under_water_world_moira_hahn Under Water World

Moira Hahn's anthropormorphic and eastern-inspired paintings offer a vibrant and unique layer to the contemporary art scheme. In honor of her solo show at Los Angeles' Gregorio Escalante, and her first Prints on Wood release title "Under Water World," we chat with the artist about her methods, inspirations and more.

1. Hi Moira. You just had a solo exhibition open at the Gregorio Escalante Gallery in LA this weekend. Can you tell us about the show and the content?

Hi Kim, Thank you! The show is an exploration of my art, spanning the past twenty years, with a large component  from the past two years (eleven paintings).

2. You just released your first print with POW titled "Under Water World" earlier this month. Can you talk about that print and the visual elements showcased in it?

The image is a meditation about disasters -- including earthquakes, tsunamis and financial hardships -- that have affected Japan and the United States recently. Friends in Japan told me first-hand about the devastation caused by the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. Five years later, a quarter-million Japanese are still homeless. Meanwhile, at the peak of the ‘Great Recession’, a third of the mortgages in LA County were ‘underwater’ due to the crash. The economies of both countries are still precarious. So my image is about cherishing, protecting and sustaining our families and friends, through difficult times.

3. Your style is very notable and distinct. What are your tools of choice and what does your method entail?

Most of the works are transparent watercolor paintings on Rives BFK (a printmaking paper) or Arches cold press watercolor paper. I glaze with multiple layers of color to get a very controlled and saturated effect, akin to the look of Japanese woodblock prints, or fin de siecle (end of the 19th century) American lithographic posters.

Blue Moon Blue Moon


4) When preparing to begin on a painting, what rituals, practices or routines do you do in order to get equipped for the task?

When I start something new, I clear my drafting table and clean all my brushes and paint dishes. The open space makes me feel like working.  I have an extensive library of reference books, and also spend time visiting art galleries, museums, and conventions to get inspired. Recently, I’ve started using Google image search and Pinterest for research. I also buy (or make) 3D props, as needed, for compositions underway.

5. Can you talk about the Asian influences expressed in your art? I understand your father was really intrigued by the culture also.

Right, he lived in China for a couple of years during World War II. He was an avid documentary-type still photographer, fascinated by Chinese culture and art. I grew up with Chinese art that he acquired in the 40s. His best friend served in Japan as the US Envoy to Kobe and Osaka in the 1950s-60s, so he also used to send my family art, traditional attire, folk toys and miniature architectural models. My sister and I were mesmerized by these beautifully handcrafted visions of another world, which seemed like a precious, lost world, or like heaven. To my mind, as a child, it was a much cooler world.

6. You've also been known to showcase your interest in "Persian miniatures, Tibetan Thanka paintings, Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, Indian animal drawings and Chinese guardian figures," can you talk about these specific influences and why you feel you're drawn towards them?

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) hosted an exhibition about Mughal (Indian) miniatures a few years ago  that was so breathtaking; I visited it four times with and without classes of my college art students. My cousin, Ed Bernbaum, is a trekker and mountain scholar who has traveled extensively through, and written books about, Tibet and Nepal. I illustrated his first book, “The Way to Shambhala”, over 35 years ago. Viewing Ed’s slide shows of his travels, including images of Thanka art, when I was a child, fostered my interest in the art form. My parents collected Ukiyo-e. A curator gifted me with a book of Indian animal drawings. We acquired a large scale Ming Dynasty painting of a guardian figure at a moving sale a few years ago, which was authenticated by a curator at LACMA. The curator later introduced me to other Ming and Quing dynasty paintings of ‘our’ guardian, Guan Di, and to other Chinese emperors, Gods, and cultural heroes. I seem to have had a natural affinity for Eastern representational and narrative art from as far back as I can recall, fed early on by my parents’ and their friends’ travels and aesthetics.

moira hahn

7. You've worked in the animation industry and for some great publications and media entities. Can you talk about your animation background and how that's played out through your career?

I fell in love with Disney animation at an early age, probably with the film “Bambi”. When I studied the craft in a graduate program at CalArts 20 years later, however, the repetition (drudgery) of the work dismayed me. I worked in the field for a few years, to pay the bills, but I think that viewing animated films such as “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke”, decades after I worked as an animator was much more inspiring than working in the field, at a low level, in the 1980s.

8.  As a trained artist who has studied in various states of the U.S. and abroad, what do you feel are the most vital tools you've acquired from your collegiate training?

A strong work ethic, and the ability to think independently, draw and paint. I later taught at several local colleges and universities, from 1989 until 2011. I taught exactly the way I’d been taught, because I got so much out of my rigorous academic training. It seems as though many of my students expected art to be easy, and always fun, so those guys were probably in the wrong class. The hard working young talents who appreciated my challenges seem to be doing well now in their studies and careers. I feel honored to still be in touch with many of them via social media; couldn’t be prouder of them.

9. What themes do you feel are playing out in this stage of your life currently for you?  

So this is my ‘Kanreki’ year; I’m about to turn 60. When (if, the birthday is months off!) that happens, I’d have made it through five cycles of the 12-animal Asian zodiac calendar. I’d  be back to the animal and element (Monkey + Fire, or ‘fire monkey’) year that I was born in. ‘Kan’ means ‘cycle’; ‘reki’ means ‘calendar’. At 60, a full cycle is achieved. Life from that point forward is a rebirth. I expect not to waste time obsessing about what other people think I should do, say, draw, or paint. At this age, it’s clear that time is a finite gift. I plan to spend more time creating. Other goals are to ‘give back’ by teaching and doing workshops, sometimes, because I enjoy helping people enrich their lives with their own visions and creativity. I also want to learn the process for creating murals and large-scale works. A talented friend, Jose Loza, has graciously agreed to let me observe as he starts a mural nearby this coming week.

moira hahn210. Can you tell us about your upcoming creative projects or work obligations that you're excited for?

One of my paintings will be in a cat-themed show at the Worcester Museum from May 21st to September 4th. The title is “Meow: A Cat-Inspired Exhibition”. I will also have a solo exhibition at Azuza Pacific University, this fall, from October 18th through November 18th.

11. Completely aside from work or obligations, what personal things do you have coming up that you're looking forward to embarking on in the coming months?

I grew a bumper crop of fruits and vegetables in my garden last year. Hope to continue that experiment. Our other, ‘drought garden’ (lawn replacement) has grown so spectacularly this spring that passers-by on our busy street stop their cars and ring our bell to ask us about it. My husband and I are also looking forward to visiting Canada and Alaska, later this year.