Blue Space #3 by Hannah Parkes
It’s that time again! Time to bring back our artist of the week!
Our local artist section is expanding! We have many amazing Birmingham artists in the gallery, with many different artistic styles. All of these are available on our Local Artists portion of the website.
This week I caught up with Hannah Parkes, a Birmingham-based screen-print-based artist and painter who loves to work with geometric patterns and abstract surrealism.
Hannah opened up all about her work, how she makes her fantastic, unique and vibrant pieces, and her inspirations! She has been an absolute pleasure to interview, and I know you will love her work as much as I do!
Hi! I’m Hannah, based in Birmingham, a multidisciplinary visual artist specialising mainly in screen printing and painting. I completed my degree in Fine Art back in 2016 from Coventry University, and it was there was where my love for screen printing first began.
I knew little about printmaking when I came out of sixth form and went to university. I had no idea that it would go on to form such a large part of my practice during, and in the years after, my time at university; I was dead set on drawing! During my first year, we were encouraged to sign up for various introduction workshops, one being an intro to screen printing. Throughout most of the workshop, I had no idea what I was doing, why, and why the tutor was so adamant we note down every single step (I get it now). It wasn’t until the last layer went down onto the paper that I realised how much potential this medium could have for my practice. I could combine elements of drawing, painting, collage, and photography, all through the method of screen printing.
The ability to experiment with speed and not fully know the outcome until printed was so exciting, and I quickly became hooked. I then spent the majority of my 2nd and 3rd years delving into what screen printing can do, and what it can do to aid the narratives and context of my work.
This piece is part of a small series of screen prints focused on Japanese iconography, tradition and culture. Japanese art often influences my work in ways that may not always be visible. With this series, I felt like bringing these influences to the forefront. I wanted to incorporate a graphic element with Chopsticks with a deconstructed, slightly disjointed composition. It borders on geometric abstraction, an overarching theme of many of my works. The colour palette is contained to just several browns, reds and black. These were consciously chosen to keep consistency within the series and to, again, highlight the Japanese influence within the work.
Again, these pieces are apart of my Japanese inspired series of prints. Shoji brings more organic, natural features into focus. Each shape, aside from the graphic lines, were created by tearing paper to give the impression of a mountainous scene, sky and sun. Breaking out of the boundaries of the print are dark graphic lines, representing a stylised Japanese shoji. As mentioned previously this element brings a hint of abstraction to the work. Additionally, the translucent nature of the layers are a nod to the translucency of shoji screen paper.
When I started my artistic career, the main component of my practice was drawing. It had always been a medium that I found comfort in and would be what I returned to when other mediums weren’t working or going the way I wanted them to. Recently, there’s been a natural, gradual shift away from it as I’ve grown more confident in my printmaking, painting and abilities in other mediums. I’ve been able to filter the nature of drawing and the comfort it provides me into these ways of making, allowing for a better flow and overall coherence in my practice.
In contrast to drawing, the painting was a medium I battled with for a long time. I found the endless styles and ways to paint hard to navigate and struggled to find my niche. It wasn’t until I grew my practice, post-university, in printmaking that I wondered if what I was doing could translate into painting and potentially provide an additional outlet to my work. This turned out to be the case, and I’ve since been able to lean into painting with more confidence and purpose.
These are my most recent pieces and are part of an ongoing series of works that explore the blurring of boundaries between constructed and abstracted matter. Using minimal blocks of solid colour, they are arranged in such a way as to suggest the formation of physical structures. Reducing the colour palette to the suggestion of light, shade, and sky aids in the narrative of monolithic construction. Each piece is void of natural, organic elements, giving the work a dystopian edge. This, combined with the vivid colour can create an uneasy tension between being invited or uninvited to the space.
My screen prints are produced in my home studio with a lot of DIY equipment. It was an adjustment leaving the luxury of my university printing studio and moving to a handmade exposure unit and printing bed made from an old kitchen cupboard door. Financially at that time, I had no other option than to make it work from home. The challenge to create successful prints in this new environment was exciting, and it kept me motivated!
As I grew accustomed to the new equipment, I began to understand the strengths and limitations when working. I created work that allowed me to feed what I was capable of at the time into my broader artistic practice. The tools were a large part of my creative decision-making and the directions I followed.
Nowhere near as often as I would like – I’m sure I’m not alone with that one either! Being an artist, or any category of self-employed creative, comes with many unwritten job roles: promotion, marketing, web design and maintenance, stock taking, packaging, shipping, admin, accounting, customer service, client liaison, funding and exhibition applications, and the list goes on! It feels like such a treat when I get around to having that time to paint, print, or explore new ideas in a sketchbook.
Both the above pieces were completed during the lockdown and were created in response to the long periods spent at home. I created other-worldly spaces, places that seem inviting, almost possible to inhabit, but with an element of dystopia. Suggestions of warm light, shadows and plants create spaces that add to the narrative of being an inviting place. The colour palette for these pieces is paired down and carefully considered to create a coherent relationship between the structures, plants and interactions of light.
A piece made relatively early on in my practice, II. Plant Pot is one of my first attempts at lino printing. I wanted to explore new ways of making and creating. I made a print that would lend itself to the wonderful texture lino printing gives. Plants are a recurring theme in many of my works as they carry a multitude of meanings. II. Plant Pot symbolises a vessel, a way to express patterns, geometric design and symmetry within the plant pot.
I’m lucky to live in a city with an extremely; positive, vibrant, inclusive creative scene and community. It’s incredibly inspiring to be surrounded by the many opportunities to collaborate, to see other creatives’ work, and to be surrounded by creativity in general. My friends are amazing and encouraging with my work and provide constant motivation and emotional support!
There are also several artists who I look up to and who inspire me to keep moving forward with my creative journey. There are two in particular that I first became aware of at an illustration fair I volunteered for in 2018 – Marcelina Amelia and Joey Yu.
Marcelina was exhibiting, and I fell in love with her work instantly. It was bold, engaging, and so varied. It was one of the first instances where I realised that it was okay to work in different ways, to produce artwork that may not always look the same – but can still come together and be a strong and well-produced body of work.
Similarly, I sat in on a talk by Joey Yu and became so engrossed by her artistic story and all the opportunities and experiences at that time that had led her to where she was. I left understanding that there is so much more to being an artist. Unexpected opportunities can arise from anywhere.
I’m very fortunate to have been part of some incredible group exhibitions. In May 2021, the Ikon gallery put on a huge group show with many talented artists – from across the region. I felt honoured to have my work alongside theirs and in such a beautiful building. I’m yet to have a solo show, but I’m working hard on moving towards the (hopefully not too distant) future.