Michael Athanasius Hanna
Interviewed by: Martyna Manowska-Laszczak
About the artist:
Michael Athanasius Hanna, hailing from Jersey City, New Jersey, has been immersed in the world of art since childhood. With a passion ignited at the age of eight, he has exhibited extensively in the Northeastern United States. His artwork has graced prominent spaces like the Victoria Gallery in Paterson, NJ, and the Atrium Gallery in Morristown, NJ. His notable achievements encompass a solo showcase at Chelsea’s Wix Gallery and a year-long display at Hogarth Worldwide in midtown Manhattan. Michael’s talent has also earned him recognition in publications such as the New York Times, Hartford Courant, Daily Record, and Jersey Journal. His work, described by curators as a „reinstatement of painting as a force of action and reaction in contemporary society,” thrives as a dynamic, awakening force. Today, Michael creates his art from his historic studio nestled in Northern Georgia. He is also the curator of Aedra Fine Arts, an online gallery and art publisher.
More about Michael you may find on: michaelhannaartist.com
You come from Jersey City, and your studio is currently located in Georgia. How has this influenced your creative approach and inspirations over the years?
I moved to Georgia because I required a lot of studio space and Georgia has affordable real estate. My art studio currently consists of a studio room, a second floor balcony so I can take breaks, and two storage rooms, all located in my house. Having about 1000 square feet of work space allows me to produce many large paintings.
Spending much of my time as a child in the various parks in Jersey City has had an influence on my paintings of gardens, although now I am focusing more on painting interior scenes. The sheer number of art galleries and museums in the entire metro area can influence any artist looking for any variety of source material to gain inspiration from. Pierre-Auguste Renoir remains my favorite painter and I am lucky to have had access to see great historical masters in the New York City metro area.
You’ve been drawing and painting from a young age. Could you tell
us a bit about how your artistic journey began?
I had a low self esteem as a child as I thought I did not excel at anything. At age eight I decided to make a drawing of a parrot. Everyone at school and my entire family thought it was great. So from that point forward I told myself I was going to be an artist and I have never looked back since.
Your artistic style is recognizable for its contrasts, expressive brushstrokes, and vibrant colours. Where do you draw inspiration for these distinctive characteristics of your work?
Currently, I’m mostly influenced by the many artists from around the world who are in Saatchi Art. Saatchi Art has a great curatorial team, their collections of artwork are second to none. I often spend hours at a time browsing the artwork and the various collections on the site.
Attempting to soften up my palette a bit, sometimes I feel like I have too much contrast in my work. Always striving for improvement and experimentation, I never get too comfortable with my art. I often paint over what I deem to be failed paintings.
In the text, you mentioned the atmospheric sense of calm and tension in your pieces. Could you tell us more about this balance between tranquility and tension that you aim to achieve in your artworks?
The tension comes from the loose, rough brushwork and the harmony derives through the colorful palette. I hope the viewer feels a sense of their mortality. Fine art remains a great tool to investigate new approaches to how we appreciate our surroundings. I am increasingly focusing on painting staircases and interiors. As humans we probably spend most of our time indoors and staircases have symbolic meaning of ascension, hence helping the viewer to ponder on their mortality.
There’s also a mutual interaction between nature and civilization present in your works. What are the main messages or emotions you try to convey while exploring this relationship?
Fundamentally there are two major factors to our planet: civilization and nature. History remains filled with humanities’ strive for natural resources and we incorporate our architectural surroundings to be in harmony with nature. Humans are always trying to find the more perfect aesthetics of nature and how to live near or investigate the natural wonders of the world.
Secondly, nature and civilization share an immortal trait. Nature constantly replenishes herself while civilization continues in various forms. Empires may have washed away with time but their historical markers remain to be immortalized and remembered. As humans we are mortals who are wasting away as time and erosion pass by us, however our historical markers, works of art, and our natural surroundings live on forever.
You embrace leaving mistakes in your works, making them an integral part of the composition. What significance does this freedom of form hold for you, and how does it influence your creative process?
A good artist knows how to loosen up. Tightness and stiffness is the greatest enemy of the aspiring artist. By losing fear of making mistakes, it allows me to loosen up more with my brushwork and line quality.
Your studio is located in a historic place. Does the atmosphere of this location affect your state of mind while working?
The house / art studio I live in was built in 1937. I currently live in North Georgia which was a significant battlefield during the civil war. Regarding myself as an international person, I am not influenced by just the town or region I live in. I would like to exhibit around the world and build an international network, when I have the funds to do so. I don’t intend to limit my boundaries to where I live.
Your works have been presented in various galleries and publications. Is there an exhibition or publication that you are particularly proud of?
I am mostly proud of my exhibit at the Victoria Gallery, a 20,000 square foot space located in Paterson, New Jersey. Your readers may view the catalogue for the exhibit at aedrafinearts.com. My solo exhibit in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York City at the Wix gallery is probably my most successful show to date. Currently, I will be exhibiting in New Jersey and Rhode Island, your readers can view all my exhibition updates at MichaelHannaArtist.com.
Your pieces often depict isolated moments and intimate compositions. Could you share your thoughts on what you’re trying to express through these scenes?
I’m striving to create the perfect composition and constantly trying to improve the space for which the eye follows on the canvas. I feel art should be poetic, not literal. The poetry of a painting depicting an expressive composition of an empty interior with nothing but stairs and windows or a sparse garden with a statue helps the viewer reflect upon their mortality.
You’ve mentioned that creating artworks is therapeutic and meditative for you. What personal and artistic benefits do you derive from this process?
Making art feels productive. There are many people who are living life without a hobby or purpose in their life. Creating poetic art which will be around long after I am gone allows me to leave a legacy. To leave a historical marker.
What are your plans and goals for the future as an artist? Are there new techniques or directions you’d like to explore in your creativity?
I currently have an extensive resume exhibiting in the Northeastern United States. In the near future I plan on exhibiting across the entire United States and my long term goals are to exhibit internationally.
Your style incorporates both drawing and painting. Do you prefer one over the other, or do you treat both as equally important aspects of your artistic expression?
I regard painting as a superior art form to drawing. Drawing has its limits as there remains no texture or color. Most of my drawings serve to help get my ideas down on paper to use as a reference for my paintings. The old masters didn’t even regard drawing as an art form but simply as a reference tool to help with the painting. But of course drawing is a great art form in its own right.
Could you share a specific story related to the creation of one of your pieces?
When I first developed the garden series, I spent an entire four days painting non-stop, only taking breaks to eat and sleep. I produced twelve paintings in that span of time. Some of them are some of the best paintings I have ever done while some of them I ended up painting over.
What feeling would you like viewers to experience when looking at your paintings? Is there a reaction or emotion you expect or aim to evoke?
I hope the viewer gets a sense of their mortality appreciating the aesthetics of the art. The most important aspect of a work of art is the mark, how the artist applies their tool. Fine art is about the how, not so much about the what. I would like the viewer to take a look at the brushstrokes carefully and see how they integrate together to create a dynamic composition.
Lastly, could you tell us what is most important to you in the creative process and in the relationship between you and your artworks?
Very important for artists to look at art and not just their own work. The internet has provided a great tool for the artist who may not be located nearby any major museums or art galleries. The most important aspect of the creative process for me is to improve. Improve at everything including my line quality, my brushwork, my compositions, and even my concepts. An artist without growth is like a fish without water. As a professional, I am often my own best critic. I even paint over many paintings I deem failed or unsuccessful.