‘My Country Business’ – Interview with Artist Hannah Woodman

Country Home & Interiors Magazine

Creativity runs in the family for Cornwall-based fine artist Hannah Woodman. 'I grew up around an appreciation of both traditional crafts and fine art,' she says. 'My mother studied set design, and although my father had an engineering background, he loved art, too, and was always collecting unusual pieces. I think when you're surrounded by creativity from a young age, it sort of seeps into you.'

Growing up near Dartington in Devon, Hannah cannot recall a time when she wasn't trying to capture what she observed around her on paper. But while she received huge encouragement from her family, her traditional schooling didn't support such artistic ambitions. 'There was the age-old concern that trying to earn a living as an artist wouldn't be sustainable,' she says. She therefore took a degree in History of Art, then went on to study at the renowned Courtauld Institute of Art, before becoming a teacher, then a lecturer in schools, museums and galleries. Family life took over in her twenties (her three daughters, Ellie, Rosa and Lara, are now 24, 22 and 19), but her compulsion to paint remained constant, even in the midst of busy family life. 'It was my way of keeping a connection with art, and I couldn’t have been without it.’

At the time the family was living in London but in 2003, Hannah and her former husband made the decision to move to Truro in Cornwall. Some years previously, they'd purchased a very remote cottage at Gwithian on the west coast and this eventually became Hannah's studio. 'Whenever I could, I would drive out there to work. I loved the solitude and felt able to immerse myself in the extraordinary natural surroundings'

This compulsion to connect fully to the landscape and then convey that in her work is something Hannah strives for constantly. 'It's as much about capturing the atmosphere of these places as what I see in front of me,' she says. 'I find there's something so special about being alone in a wild, isolated place and considering my place in it. That’s something I try to encapsulate on canvas’

But the turning point of her career – ‘a true moment of serendipity’ – came just before her move to Cornwall, when she left some photographs of her work at a friend’s house. 'Her persistence meant they found their way to a gallerist in London called James Huntingdon-Whiteley says Hannah. 'He came to see my work and ended up offering me an exhibition on Cork Street, which was both exciting and terrifying at the same time.'

Hannah had to produce 40 pieces of work in just six months for the opening. 'I was painting every day and was so determined, although I definitely had imposter syndrome - I thought that I probably wasn't good enough for the opportunity,' she says. But, her fears were completely unfounded. The exhibition was a resounding success, and finally gave Hannah the means and opportunity to completely immerse herself in her work as an artist.

Then, eight years ago, Hannah moved with her daughters to the Cornish river town of Falmouth, drawn by its community spirit. 'I wanted to feel connected with other creative souls and this place gave we that chance,' she says. That connection is something she has been fundamental in establishing, too. She initially worked from a warehouse studio in Penryn, but she felt a strong need to create an affordable space to share with other artists. An opportunity presented itself three years ago when she discovered the historic warehouse next to the one she was working in was for sale.

Grays Wharf, overlooking the river, was run down and contained a warren of rooms, but Hannah could immediately see its potential. 'It didn't need to be fancy, just functional - it was exactly the right space' Hannah teamed up with her friend, jeweller Mirri Damer, and together they took a huge leap of faith and bought the building between them. It was really nerve-racking and we had so much to get done before we could even get it up and running,' says Hannah.

The two women needn't have worried. Hannah was able to move into the one completed studio space just six months later. 'It was just me and the builders for a while,' she says. But an enormous response from local artists and designers who were equally keen to work in such a creative space meant there was soon a waiting list for the remaining studios and workspaces. There are now 20 people in residence - from painters to photographers, ceramicists and screen printers - spread across the 12 individual studios and the shared work area. 'It really is the best of both worlds,' says Hannah. 'I love the sense of community and support we have at Grays Wharf, but I can also take myself off to some of the most remote corners of the country, which is where all my inspiration comes from. Living in part of Cornwall and working in this community space, I feel creatively sustained in every sense of the word.’

Country Homes & Interiors, 2020

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