'The Unlimited Art of the Limited Palette' Drawing Inspiration Podcast Interview

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Interview with Hannah Monro - Sept 2022


Did you study/ go to university etc for art? 
Yes, I did my foundation year at Camberwell, where, after trying out painting, ceramics, photography, calligraphy, etc  I realised I wanted to concentrate on painting. I then went to Leicester for my degree, at first making installations and video (which was encouraged by the College and we realise now was amazingly ahead of its time given that neither were then prevalent in mainstream museums/galleries in the mid 70’s!!!) but gradually I realised that I wanted to paint, and to paint figuratively, and especially to garner the effects of light (and therefore shade) from the things and people I saw around me. 
How did you get your start as a successful artist? 
I sold work at my degree show which gave me confidence I could sell work I loved making, and therefore possibly make my living as an artist. I then went back down south and took a job as a barmaid in a country pub, so I could paint in the mornings and afternoons, plus meet people/customers at lunchtime and in the evening (in those days pubs were only open at set hours). Several customers commissioned me to make portraits, paintings etc, one invited me to hold my first exhibition in London, another to do portrait photography and backdrops, and so on. Within 9 months I had enough commissions to no longer need the pub job.
What about your surroundings/ nature around you inspire you to paint?  
Sunlight and bright light, and the shadows cast, are very important, and very precious to me. I always want to paint its many and varied effects. Especially backlight.
What is it about watercolour  that inspires you and why do you work with it? 
I love everything about it as a medium, the pigments, paper and brushes, and especially that it moves on the paper, which means you cannot entirely dictate your own terms !! so it is always challenging and always exciting.  An adrenalin rush every time (and safer than bungee jumping!)
Why do you paint wildlife and animals? 
On my first visit to Africa (Zimbabwe 1981) I was attracted to Africa immediately, its light, the smell of the earth, the heat, the wildlife and the people, and passionate about elephants and seeing animals in their natural habitat - free and as if I was seeing the Earth as God intended, I felt immediately at home.
Who are your artist or personal inspirations? 
Too many to mention, but to highlight just one for the moment, I was thrilled that the National Gallery have an exhibition on Winslow Homer as I have admired his way with watercolour for many years and even though I have been to countless Art Museums in the USA to search out his works, there are never so many in one place as in this current exhibition. I highly recommend it! I love Matisse, Hockney, Turner, Cotman, Rothko, Monet, Lichenstein, Howard, Japanese prints ... the list is too long to even think about writing down as it would be too long for you to read! And then there are writers too, like Oscar Wilde whose words adorn my studio walls in Cape Town, and of course musicians, their music and lyrics that I often paint with, sometimes deliberately playing certain songs to bring direction to my thinking as I paint. And I love reading the Bible and books on astrophysics and quantum dynamics, classics like Heroditus, Homer, all these things inspire me. I am endlessly curious about other people’s lives, discoveries and how they think.
Do you have any historical artists you admire? 
Again, probably all of them, there are very few artists I do not admire, even if I do not like their works myself, I know how hard it is to make one’s living as an artist so I tend to admire all professional artistic activity and creativity! I especially love work that is completely different from my own as I know I cannot make that kind of work with the integrity that they employ, for example, wholly abstract work like Rothko’s or Franz Kline. I very much admire artists who wear their heart on their sleeve eg those who share similar religious beliefs to my own (ie Christian) eg Michelangelo, his poetry and how he manages to paint religious themes without preaching, so I guess most of the Renaissance artists have my huge admiration, and I love coming across frescos and paintings in Churches in Venice for example and being wowed and moved by the drama and the size. I will never stop being inspired by other artists, and never stop seeking their works out on my travels.
What has been your favourite/ most memorable piece you have done? 
An impossible question to answer - if there were only one piece I doubt I could have made a living out of my passion! Every so often I paint something and afterward think, wow did I actually make that happen? How? - usually its with watercolour (or sometimes with palette knife in oils) - it then seems as if someone else took over my hand, and afterward I feel somewhat paralysed as I do not know if I can paint something as meaningful again. But I learned long ago to paint my way out of any artistic block, and since I always want to paint, I just carry on painting, as I guess I will do all my life!