The spirit of wanderlust and feminist leanings underpin the work of this sought-after Sydney artist
Hannah Grossberg caught the travel bug early: blessed with parents who instilled a love of travel and appreciation of art early on, it was almost inevitable that she would pursue a career as an artist - helped, of course, by a startling natural aptitude.
After completing her formal training via a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the University of Sydney, followed by six months at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, Grossberg has settled back in Sydney's east, balancing private commissions with a growing portfolio of commercial clients - Missoni, Vogue, Oroton and Aje have all sought her services, as have we - Grossberg painted four works for the Buro 24/7 Australia launch party.
From her beautifully feminine florals suspended in oil on canvas to arresting female nudes that strike the beholder with their dichotomy of fragility and strength, Grossberg's practice is as distinctive as it is diverse. We sat down with the up-and-coming creative (did we mention she's only 23?) to find out what drives her.
Related story: 5 artists you should get to know now
How have your travels influenced you?
Since I was young, my mum, who's definitely given me the travel bug, has not only always made these incredible trips happen but she's always directed them to culture and the arts. Every trip we go on, even if it's just Melbourne for a weekend, always had an artistic or cultural purpose. My parents can't bear the thought of just lying on a beach and I actually don't enjoy that either. I'm always interested in seeing not only the galleries but the studios and the artists at work: for me, as an artist, that's really important.
What inspires you?
Del Kathryn Barton is incredibly influential for me and my work. Her intricacy and her intensity with colour, I love it. An early inspiration was Japan. I visited before I did my HSC major work and I was completely in awe. I focused specifically on the Japanese woman in history and I wanted to document her journey of breaking free from such a restricted, refined, culture to completely rebelling. To this day, even my very illustrative work, the flowers and cherry blossoms, are completely influenced by Japanese art, technically and conceptually.
Your work has been described as feminist - why is that?
At first I was so unaware of my position as an artist and the message I was trying to convey; I didn't realise how strong my [feminist] position was when painting that major work. I just thought I was documenting a part of Japan that interested me. And now, all the oil paintings I do are not only female but they're capturing the delicateness, the fragility, the complete aesthetic of that theme. I'm always painting the beauty and fragility found in the natural world - it's really an abstracted version of the feminist world.
Related story: Secret creatives: 8 of the most surprising celebrity artists
Related story: Art meets fashion: the top 5 fusions from Paris Couture
Are you drawn to portray a certain type of woman?
It's not about the woman's characteristics, her hair colour or anything, that's not what I'm concerned with, it's more her energy. It's about being free and light and completely exposed. In a lot of my oil paintings the lighting is completely exposed and it's about having nothing covering, it's about exposing all the flaws and little wrinkles and beauty spots and showing all the fragilities of being a woman.
Why the move from a traditional art practice to commercial?
I think it's really important, because as much as I'd love to, I can't pretend I'm working in the Renaissance. I need to adapt to what people want and what they can use for their businesses graphically and digitally.
What's your preferred medium?
I learnt watercolour at Parsons, which I hadn't been formally trained in because watercolour is seen as quite elementary. But I think it's really underrated because there's so much you can do with it. So I got taught properly and that gave me the confidence to bring it home and work with it, and I'm so grateful for that because it's been so well responded to. The thing with watercolour is you can't have control over the medium. The minute that drop of water hits the paper and bleeds into the surface, it's done. It's a very spontaneous form of painting. If I were to choose one medium to do forever, I think it would be oils because I love the richness, but watercolour and acrylic offer something beautiful too.
What have been your favourite jobs so far?
Oroton was amazing - I had to take my studio and move it into their store and paint on the wallets and bags themselves. It was a bit out of my comfort zone at first but it was an amazing opportunity to break away from oil on canvas and also for the audience, to have me in their space and see my processes. My studio world is very shut off and private and it's a beautiful thing to be able to share.
Was painting on their products nerve-wracking?
They're very trusting. Luckily my art is so precise and meticulous and my steady hand is everything. There's that hilarious story of the artist - CJ Hendry - who had her right hand insured for millions and I'm thinking I should get onto that! I was getting something out of the oven the other day and I burnt my hand and I'm thinking, that's not okay, I can't have a blister on my finger, I need to work.