[Interview] with Hanna Wright

by A.M. Larks

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[KELP JOURNAL] I always find it interesting to learn about how an artist began their journey. When did you begin drawing?


[HANNA WRIGHT] I began drawing as a young girl as soon as I was old enough to hold a crayon. Growing up, I spent most of my time in diapers with my "mamaw," folk artist Geraldine Scalf of Barbourville, Kentucky. She inspired me to continue with my arts and crafts as a child. I taught myself how to sew at the age of seven after my mamaw taught me the only thing she knew about sewing—how to thread a needle. I began making potholders, pouches, skirts, dresses, purses, and eventually quilts with every scrap of cloth I could find until I got a sewing machine at the age of eighteen. I was a competitive swimmer beginning in the second grade and that helped me get into college where I decided to pursue teaching special education. I began collecting "remnants of the past" in the form of old records from the 70s and 80s when I was a dime old, just for the artistically appealing album covers. I destroyed many great records for the sake of hanging great cover art with duct tape to my bedroom walls during my childhood.


[KJ] Your collected works (as seen on Pinterest) are very interesting as there are many repeated images, the one of the head being most prominent. Many artists—arguably the most famous being Monet and his Water Lilies—try to capture a single image for most of their careers. Monet was trying to capture the light and ambience of the movement of the water, which makes me wonder what it is that draws you to the abstracted bust. What are you trying to capture?


[HW] I found early inspiration for my art in mother goose rhymes, children's storybooks, and coffee table magazines. As a child, I prized a pencil and crayon drawing I did of a landscape with a blonde girl seated on a rope swing with her back turned facing a river. With that drawing I won the children's art competition at the Daniel Boone Festival while my mamaw, Geraldine, took home the adult art awards that year. My mamaw is a major inspiration for me personally and artistically. I remember playing in the mountain woods of Kentucky, near numerous old coal mines above my mamaw's house in Hooker Holler, where we would collect creek rocks to take home and paint. I always admired my mamaw's artwork and ability to make art with character.


[KJ] Even though I mentioned a famous Impressionist above, your works tend to sit at the apex of several of the modern art movements: Expressionism, Cubism, and certainly any of the movements dealing with abstraction like Symbolism, Abstract Expressionism, etc. Being self-taught, I am curious if you have studied any of these movements. Do you have any favorite artists from these periods?


[HW] I am also extremely inspired by other artists' work namely the French artist Laurent Folco; USA Folk Artist, Michael Banks; Keith Haring; Stanley Mouse; BANKSY; Geoff McPhetridge; Hilma af Klint; and, of course, the great Pablo Picasso. Although I am not a classically trained artist, I like to think that I've taken a hands-on approach when it comes to developing an individual art style. I have learned about artwork by experimenting with my resources and making my own artwork daily. I like being a “self-taught” artist, and I like coming from a small town in southeastern Kentucky.


[KJ] I think it is interesting that your work evokes a timeline through twentieth and twenty-first century art history. That timeframe is when art began to come from within the artist rather than from the outside world and was meant to convey the anxieties of the artist during profound times of social change and disruption, e.g., Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism dealing with the World War 1era and post-World War 2 era, respectively. We are now in a time of such profound social change and disruption; do you believe this has an influence on the popularity of your work? Have you seen an uptick in demand since COVID-19 began?


[HW] When I became a special education teacher, I began to focus more on developing my art as a passion. My art has important personal and symbolic meaning to me, as the creator. My art represents a timeline of emotional experiences that are experienced by me and anyone else on any given day, especially in these uncertain times in which we live! The COVID-19 pandemic caused me to become even more focused on choosing a paramount path for my life in the arts.


[KJ] You have been open about your struggles living with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). How does art play a role in your coping?


[HW] Choosing to develop my art during the pandemic helped me cope in dealing with OCD and the overwhelming emotions that flooded through my brain. The pandemic actually helped me with productivity. I created a high volume of original artworks in isolation. I believe pandemic art is partially driven by both emotion and fear of the unknown. Now I feel that I must do art to stay sane in this crazy world. Making abstract portraits with familiar expressions has kept me grounded in some strange way. I began putting my artwork out online more during the past couple of years. I, strangely, no longer cared if my art was rejected during the pandemic. Somehow that freedom of expression has helped me to become more accepted in the art world as I keep creating. I like the idea that abstract art can symbolize something different to every single person that enters a room.


[KJ] In your non-art life you are a special education teacher. Do you incorporate art in that part of your life as well?


[HW] I am not a huge fan of technology or digital art. I respect art that has been physically made by hands. Speaking of hands, fun fact​: I was actually born with twelve fingers—two extra pinkies with bone and all to be exact—surgically removed at three months, if that matters. Anyways, I have been a special education teacher since I graduated from the University of the Cumberlands in 2015. I've had many jobs including a veterinarian office janitor (pooper scooper), third shift weekend Pilot gas station cashier (until a death threat), summer lifeguard, swim lesson instructor, white water raft guide on the Cumberland River with Sheltowee Trace Outfitters (five years), two year summer camp counselor for special needs children, and seasonal jumper for UPS! I enjoy helping others and have taken care of others in some form nearly all of my life. I love working with the kids I have been blessed with meeting as a teacher.



AM Larks writes fiction, nonfiction, children's literature, and drama. Her writing has appeared in Scoundrel Time, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Five on the Fifth, Charge Magazine, and the Zyzzyva and Ploughshares blogs. She has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, California. She is the current photo/visual arts editor at Kelp Journal, a multimedia literary revue, and the former fiction editor at Please See Me literary magazine as well as the former multimedia editor of The Coachella Review.

AM Larks earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Juris Doctorate, and most recently a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University California Riverside Palm Desert's low residency program. She is a longtime patron of the arts and enjoys stories that capture the complexities of life on the page or screen.