I love these new pieces by Dublin-based artist Leah Hewson so much that I’m having a hard time figuring out what words to use to begin this post! Playful, bright, a little bit cute — but not too cute, and definitely energetic, they bring out a sense of happy weird joy. I enjoy the repetitive pattern process, and the use of complementary color choices to make them pop. Hewson has only recently been moving into more nonobjective subject matter, steering away from having a figure always central in her work, which she felt she was depending on a bit too much. Comparatively, her latest work has the potential to go large, and the juxtaposition of soft shapes against geometrical angles, pastels against primaries, and focal points over patterns adds a complexity that is rewarding once the viewer has a moment to travel the canvas. I wanted to ask her a bit about her process, and thoughts on being an artist. Take a look below!
Can you explain a bit about what your process is like?
I get really inspired by having new materials. (Which isn’t necessarly good for my pocket!) I love when a new colour paint pops out at me in the shop… I’m never sure at that time what I will do with it, but that’s the exciting part!
The term ‘play’ is important in what I do. I feel that as an artist and creative, it’s important not to get so bogged down with being afraid of making mistakes. If you put a mark on a surface, you are moving forward. It is only after that fact that I decipher what the successful and unsuccessful elements are. I see my job is to make something that is whole, not perfect. My area of concern has always been the mind. The imagination has endless possibilities and as we become older we dontt give ourselves the time or forget to use it. Let’s be kids forever!
I’ve always liked to use mixed media. It allows for better experimenting and fewer limitations and boundaries. Layering up of different patterns can lead to exciting and new outcomes.
And what about your current, more abstract project?
With my current project I’m trying to work more instinctively. Looking at the psychological ideas of Carl Jung and his theories of the unconscious mind. With that I want to tap into my own unconscious and create from instinct. It’s a very fast pace of working with lots of pieces going at the same time. I see a colour, I get an idea, I put it onto the surface. No thinking. No second guessing. At the moment I have 10 different pieces on the go… whichever one I’m drawn to with the brush/pen/pencil/sticker I go to… It’s important not to think about it too much. What comes out of me is a direct link to past experiences, dreams, active imagination, and free association. The interesting part of this project is the notion of the ego. My artist’s ego wants to make something that is aesthetically pleasing, but that then contradicts my concept, so there is a constant battle to try and stay in the unconscious and not let me ego take over. It’s a personal journey.
Who or what are some of your biggest influences?
Music plays an incredibly important role for me. It allows my head to switch off or alternatively focus more acutely. I have noticed that over the years the stranger the music I listen to, the stranger the outcome of my artwork. A lot of what I listen to is electronic music. Sometimes quite chilled, sometimes techno where the rhythm itself can put you into a trance like state. Groups like Autechre (some of which I couldn’t call music and most of which is even too bonkers for me!), Plaid, and Boards of Canada have been consistently playing throughout my artistic career.
My influences change all the time… At the moment I can get enough of Charming Baker, Conor Harrington, Brian Maguire, Jen Stark. I’ve found some unbelievably talented people that I follow on Instagram such as Mark Whalen, Paul Kremer, Donal Gerehan, and Christian Rex Van Minnen — to name a few. I find social media incredible because some have thousands of followers and some only a few hundred. It allows for a much wider audience, so I get to discover lots of art that I maybe wouldn’t have before.
Consistent influences for me are Dali, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Richard Gorman, Warhol, Louis Bourgeois, Alice Maher and Monir Shahroudy, Sean Scully and illustrator Ralph Steadman. I also get some influence from fashion… Iris Van Herpen, Alexander McQueen and Ashley Williamson.
Influence and inspiration is literally everywhere! Not just within your own discipline.
What, so far, do you feel has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
The biggest ongoing challenge is learning the business and promotion side of being an artist. It wasn’t taught to us in college, and I think it should definitely become a module. Making websites, business cards, how to price work, how to gain exposure, networking… its all a necessary part. If nobody knows you or your work then it’ll be stuck in your bedroom or studio forever. That is fine, if that’s what you want! But the way I try to approach it without getting overwhelmed is: as long as I’m doing something within a day/week that makes me move forward whether it be doing this interview, posting a photo on Instagram or arranging studio visits — even if it is something small — it counts!
The other big thing is public speaking. I hate it! But I wont let it hold me back. I believe that any experience that comes my way I have to say yes to (within reason!) even if it means doing something that pulls me right out of my comfort zone! I live by the motto “fake it ’til you make it” (in terms of confidence in public speaking)!
One concern that I hear all the time is the post-university anxiety that making an art career can be extremely daunting. What has your experience been like?
First of all I’ve always had a super strong support group from my family and friends. I feel really lucky in that way! They are amazing. My dad built me a studio out the back garden when I was in 3rd year college… big up to Norms!
Saying that, I’ve had 3 quarter-life crises already! I think they are important to go through, and I’ve learned a lot. The whole thing is a slow process. I’ve learned to be patient. I’ve tried to make smaller goals for myself, within the larger ones. And I’ve also tried not to be afraid of talking to my peers about my struggles.
I successfully did the part-time waitress thing for a couple years, but realised that I needed something a bit more solid. I now work in film production in the Set Decorating and Prop Buying dept which allows for the year to be broken up into blocks and is a great way to pay rent, and to save for when I need time off! For example, I am currently taking 6 months off film work (mid-season of the TV show Vikings – much to the support of the team down there!) to concentrate on my studio residency in the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) Dublin.
It can take a long time to find the balance and I am still playing with it. I try to take it year by year and try to be adaptable.
What do you think has been your greatest moment of success so far?
Getting the studio residency in the RHA, where I am now! The openings of my two solo shows were a pretty good feeling too!
Do you have any advice for young art students or anyone considering pursuing art as a career?
If you are looking for stability mentally, emotionally and financially, you need to rethink! It is only a recent realisation that I have made that I actually enjoy the instability and excitement of not knowing what next year will be. It is a way of living that a lot of society doesn’t understand, and with this you are often required to think outside the box! (But you probably already think like this anyway!)
Think about the type of art you want to make… an area that really interests you but know that it might take a while to pin it down and refine your style. Be patient with it, let it be an organic process. Talk to people about what you do! Experiment and play! Listen to everyone’s criticism, but choose carefully what you take on board and remember you should be making art for yourself, not others.
Big thanks, Leah!
You can find more information on the artist at leahhewson.com, on Facebook, and on Instagram (#leahhewsonart), and she can also be reached by phone at +353 85 717 3421 (Ireland) and via email for additional inquiries.
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