Q&A with artist Hanna Leah Gibbs

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The paintings of New York City artist Hanna Leah Gibbs are on display at Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St.)

KASEY LYON: What do your pieces represent?

HANNA LEAH GIBBS: They don’t represent anything you can see with the naked eye. They are my vision. I am interested in people’s place in nature and the way sublimity and beauty, especially in light, affect us. My paintings are meant to trigger feelings of sublimity and familiarity on an intimate level. I want the viewer to feel a personal relationship to the work. I find that people who buy abstract art are seekers. It is a mysterious world, and religion and science do not have all the answers.

LYON: Why do you choose to do abstract?

GIBBS: I know some great traditional landscape artists that have amazing skill, but do we really need another painting of a red barn? If realism is your goal, you can get an HD camera. To me painting is about seeing something beyond the tangible and making it visible. That’s the beauty of abstraction.

LYON: What is the process of your work? How do you arrive at your finished product?

GIBBS: A lot of time goes into each painting. They are made up of many layers and I let each layer dry before adding the next to better preserve the underlying colors and textures. Since I mainly work with oil, this becomes a long process, so I usually have quite a few paintings going at the same time. A lot of the work I do goes into controlling organic patterns and surfaces. I like to let the paintings seem raw and natural. The separation of solvents and oils helps me make this possible. Something I will do is add a lot of extra linseed oil when applying color and then let it dry for about a day. The oil will still be wet, but now I can crack the surface of the oil with a solvent (like turpentine) without the two media blending. This way, I can control beautiful, organic patterns and it will look like a natural refraction. I actually have a painting in the show by that name. It is a very fun process and I can get completely enveloped in it for hours at a time.

LYON: How does being from Norway influence your work?

GIBBS: Norway is a spectacular place to grow up. The mountains, glaciers and fjords are breathtaking. Although I have always painted, it was not until I moved away from Norway that I could fully understand how growing up there had affected me. The polar blue light has had a particularly bizarre effect on my mood when I have gone back to visit over the years. I always loved hiking and make a point to do so whenever I go home. I take in as much of the atmosphere that I can and bring it back to my studio in the city.

LYON: Have the differences in lifestyle between Manhattan and Norway helped your artistic style change or develop over time?

GIBBS: Living in New York has made me more aware of the parallels between “wild” and urban landscapes. The complicated structures that make up a city are no less impressive than those in nature. What I am realizing is that since nature has created people, what we create just becomes an extension of nature. We are not separate. In my more recent works, I have tried to express these ideas by integrating more geometric structures into the organic landscapes I have worked with for so long.

LYON: You use a very vibrant and interesting color palette in your paintings. How important is the use of these colors to your work?

GIBBS: Color is a subjective experience of light, so it is endlessly interesting. My exploration of light has therefore led to an in-depth exploration of color. The colors I work with are often bold and vibrant; I use these to convey a sense of life. Mark Rothko was quite the colorist and I have always found myself drawn to his paintings and how they seemed to illuminate. A more contemporary artist that I often look to for inspiration is Peter Doing. When seeing his work, I feel like I am constantly discovering colorful, jewel like moments that are just for me. I want people to feel a similar relationship to my paintings.

LYON: When and where is your artist talk?

GIBBS: I will be giving an artist talk at Converge Gallery in Williamsport on February 22nd. Joanne Landis will be giving a talk about her work the same night and the event will run from about 7 to 9 p.m.

LYON: What will the talk include?

GIBBS: This will be my first artist talk and I am very excited to share my experiences as an artist. I will be talking about both the technical and conceptual aspects of my work, as well as give a brief summary of my background. Growing up in Norway has had a large influence on me and I will address this while referring to some examples on display at the gallery. Towards the end I will be open to questions and look forward to meeting the people who attend the event. It will be a fun night and I very much look forward to hearing about Joanne’s work as well.

LYON: What has your experience been with Casey, John and Converge Gallery?

GIBBS: Casey is great! I first met him in December, 2012, in Chelsea, NYC. I was very impressed by his project to bring contemporary art to central Pennsylvania. He and his partner John seem to have really shaken up the culture scene in Williamsport. At the opening of our exhibition Abstractions I was excited to see how many people came from near and far. It is fun to be a part of it all. Casey has rallied a lot of really cool artists around Converge. Now they will be exhibiting in New York City as well and I am excited to see what a partnership with Manhattan will bring.