Hannah Kate Absalom
b. 1998, UK
Hannah Absalom explores the themes of religion, dogma, and the supernatural, most obviously through the contemporary interpretations of mythologies and iconography, and crucially in more subtle, but certainly more common forms, such as the symbolism and semantics of body gestures, shapes, colours, abstract words, and sounds.
Born in 1998, in a small coastal town in the North East of England, Hannah Absalom graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a First Class Honours in BA Fine Art, Painting & Printmaking.
Absalom’s work primarily focuses on concepts surrounding religion and mysticism through a contemporary interpretation of ancient iconography, ritual, and folklore. Aside from narrative tales, Absalom also explores collective thought, in which certain symbols, colours, creatures, and bodily gestures invoke shared responses across time and culture.
In addition to exploring the effects of religion upon traditional art forms, her investigation expands into a reflection of Judeo-Christianity on the aesthetics of the grotesque and horror – specifically in 20th-century cinema. She aims to present a classical yet surreal interpretation of dystopias and apocalypses within the framework of contemporary concerns: political, societal, and environmental.
The uncanny is an underlying aspect of Absalom’s practice, primarily her video work. The imagery used can often be unsettling, disturbing, and hypnotic in its blending of dream and dogma. Her artwork tends to take the form of either oil paintings, drawings, woodcuts, or lithography, being a fairly traditional, figurative, and painterly artist, however, she has recently been experimenting with other media, such as video works, sound pieces, and sculpture.
Can you introduce yourself to me?
I am originally from a coastal town just above Newcastle in North East England, but I have lived in Glasgow for five years. I moved to Glasgow to study Painting and Printmaking at The Glasgow School of Art in 2016, which I graduated with a First Class Honours in June 2020. I fell in love with Glasgow during my studies, so I plan to stay here for another year or two, then move around in the foreseeable future – once the world returns to some sort of reality.
What inspired you to become an artist?
As cliché as it sounds, I have always wanted to become an artist. The first solid memory of coming to that conclusion was in primary school, and it never really shifted, though I also felt it was more of a fantasy than an achievable career. I come from a typical working-class background, so making a living from splashing paint around seemed fanciful. I half entertained practical jobs, but I knew art would be a constant for me. I think my family is quite artsy and craftsy in nature. I don't think there was any specific incident that inspired me to become an artist besides feeling very content with a pencil in my hand. If I had to answer, I will perhaps dedicate it to Neil Buchanan and the infinite episodes of Art Attack.
What was the most memorable moment you have experienced as an artist?
A few different moments have touched me in the last one or two years. In the Summer of 2020, New Blood Art started representing me and sold my first piece of work, a linocut print, at a reasonable price. This was the first time I felt like someone saw the real value of my work, as I was very much used to people expecting my portraits to be £20. Not that I base success on financial gain, but I cannot pretend my first sold work at New Blood Art did not give me a sense of validation as an artist.
I sold a big painting a few months later and realised I could cover my expenses through these sales. I was never confident that I could make reliable earnings with an art degree, so this definitely gave me hope.
I also attach thank you notes to all my sold artworks, offering my email address to buyers who wish to contact me. I often receive lovely emails back, expressing their love for the piece and what it means to them. Their responses are moving things to read.
Do you have a network of artists you rely on? What do you do to support each other?
Absolutely, my university class was made up of some highly talented artists, and I am fortunate enough to have a solid group of friends who are hugely talented and generous artists. There are roughly ten of us, all producing massively different works which we organised into group exhibitions in the past. I look forward to doing it again this year if the pandemic gets better.
I recommend checking out the work of Louise Reynolds, Gaia Tretmanis, and Tabitha Hall. We provide moral support and company for each other during gruelingly long studio days and share advice, materials, and techniques without reserve. We are essentially each other's hype-men, gushing over one another on social media and being the first in the other's shop - our flats are quickly becoming mini-galleries of each other's work.
What media do you use?
I typically make figurative oil paintings, woodcuts, and short films centring on religious imagery and ideas of mysticism, dogma, and ritual. The aesthetics of my work is somewhere between Medieval painting, Byzantine iconography, and Sci-Fi. I am excited by how it has become more coherent and solid over the last two years.
What does your work aim to say?
When I work with ideas and imagery stemming from religion, I am aware that it can quickly become grandiose and heavy, which I try to offset with the bizarre and humorous. I have a love-hate relationship with religion and theology, so my adoration and cynicism are probably visible in my work. I aim to open discussions about contemporary topics through narratives and imagery that are ingrained into our collective memory.
What genre does your work belong to, and what techniques do you use?
I am not sure if Byzantine Science Fiction is a genre, but I would say my work is somewhere between the iconographic and the surreal. I do not think about categorising my work, as I can see it fitting into many different lanes.
I love the painting techniques and 'rules' of Eastern European iconography and the buttery painting textures of Fillipo Lippi and Carlo Crivelli. In terms of contemporary artists, I adore the imagery used by Rae Klein. Her paintings seem to be both heavy and translucent at the same time. I love the humour and silliness of Corey K Lamb's paintings. The paint application is also incredibly satisfying. Otherwise, I am more inspired by film and cinema, particularly the filmography of Stanley Kubrick, Rob Eggers, and Ingmar Bergmann.
What are the concepts behind your collaboration with the House of Glaze?
All of my original works are oil paintings on canvas, which is the medium I am most comfortable with. The images feature Medieval imagery, characters, and colour palettes. These works are different from my usual dystopian and apocalyptic themes and replace the sci-fi elements with more frivolous and nonsensical imagery. I recreated the Medieval characters within my style with my own odd sense of humour. I had fun creating something more light-hearted and within a genre that I adore. The collaboration allowed me the opportunity to not worry about meaning, composition, and subject.
Hannah Absalom's work (middle) exhibited at the Glue Factory, Glasgow, UK in 2019.