A New Zealand artist has found a nonconventional way to use traditional woodcut printmaking tools to create splendidly colorful carved paintings, featuring animal and nature motifs.
Following designs drawn lightly in chalk atop painted wooden panels, the artist, Hannah Jensen, 37, from Christchurch, New Zealand, plunges her engraving tool into the still slightly soft acrylic membrane to, in an oh-so-satisfying way, peel back slivers of color. Her painting method is reductive rather than additive, carving into layers upon layers of pre-applied acrylic to reveal images within.
In order to prep for this moment, however, Hannah has to spend some four or six weeks applying coats of seemingly nonsensically contrasting hues—as many as 85 layers—onto her panels. No shapes, no lines, no contrast, nor imagery. Just layers of flat paint. Once that sets, she lays out her designs, based on researched imagery, and starts a carving process that can take anywhere from a day to eight weeks to complete depending on the size. She creates animals and decorative floral scenes—her tools and techniques betraying woodcut traits, though markedly sculptural, akin to Asian lacquer works. For surfaces, Hannah chooses various shapes, large and small, ranging from traditional round or rectangular panels, to unconventional objects such as actual skateboards.
Wildlife and nature take center stage in her work. Hannah often plays up that Eastern feel with Asian motifs: flowers such as peonies and chrysanthemum, and birds such as peacocks. But more realistic renderings also appear in her work, including her native kiwi birds, crows and other birds, zebras, elephants, horses, buffalo, and lions.
Hannah stumbled on this unique painting-woodcut hybrid method in her second year at Auckland University of Technology in 2003 and hasn’t looked back since. Now, 18 years on, the artist has created hundreds of carvings for clients across the world, as well as a host of personal pieces.
“My ideas stem from my soul. There is a narrative I want to share, an idea that lingers, marinates, and then over time matures into something I have to carve. An idea of my own can stay with me for years until I finally bring it to life,” she told The Epoch Times. “I surrender to each piece taking its time, and then when I have finalized the vision in my head, I’m all over colors and size and start with ordering the board’s paint, layering work, drawing the work, and then carving it, before I work back into it creating more depth using paint in mixed media.”
Like many artists experimenting in new ways of working, self-doubt sometimes casts a shadow over her vision. She has her approach to facing uncertainty.
“Trusting in oneself is a good place to start,” she said. “The question I start every carving with is, ‘How am I going to create these textures with this one little tool?’ I choose to only use one tool and that is the wonderful challenge I face each time I start a new carving. Obviously, over time I have created a style but I like to keep things fresh and interesting, forever pushing what I know.”
Hannah’s last solo exhibition, in 2018, featured some of her favorite works, including huge, detailed carvings of large animals such as a greater kudu, a leopard, an elephant, and a small herd of Camargue horses—“each piece, a powerful work, amplifying the textures and personalities of each animal,” she added.
Going forward, the artist hopes to explore wildlife further to advance the cause of conservation.
“I adore animals and wanted to create a greater connection between the animal and the viewer to encourage more awareness of their presence and need on this Earth,” she said. “I want to create art that shares a story, bringing into conversation, more about animal conservation. Not just their beauty but why, like the rhino and whale, are we still killing such magnificent animals, knowing the devastating result of their declining numbers.”
Here are more works by Hannah Jensen:
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(Courtesy of Hannah Jensen)