Hannah Ehrlich- Artist Q&A

Hannah Ehrlich is a painter and textile artist based in Atlanta. She is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Textile and Fiber Arts. Hannah made her public debut this summer during Mason Fine Art’s group exhibition, Fresh Blood. Ehrlich’s piece, Evanscent Permanence, a hand dyed and handwoven muslin towers over spectators with its massive size at 156 by 252 inches.

Having only seen digital images of this woven, we were eager to see Evanscent Permanence displayed in a physical space. Needless to say, once exhibited, we were taken back by its commanding presence. The depth of colors, the variation of texture, and sheer size immediately captures the viewers' attention. Evanscent Permanence is non-discriminate as it summons observers of all walks to halt their step and heed its calling. Hannah’s ability to execute color and texture to create works that produce profound emotion with her audience is sure to become her trademark talent. 

During an artist talk, Hannah shared that the accompanying description for Evanscent Permanence was swiftly written late one night. The message flowed through her as she feverishly wrote each word on paper. At the completion, Hannah stated that no edits were made to the writing. 

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“It is the darkest parts of us that feel inescapable at times.

It is something we all have

That we all avoid talking about.

It keeps us awake at night,

And makes it hard to rejoice for others.

It causes us to feel more alone than we can handle,

And effects our relationships past, present and future.

It is what we are reminded of during the day that causes us to freeze.

We bury this part of us deep away from the world and continue to go through the everyday motions of life…

…until warmth seeps into the frozen parts of our being and thawing begins.”

Rigby Ink sat down with Hannah to discuss the unveiling of Evanscent Permanence and life post-graduation. Hannah shares the peaks and valleys she has experienced as a young artist and the agility she has cultivated to conquer challenges inside the studio.

RIGBY INK- What is life like a year after finishing school and debuting your work in the Fresh Blood show?

HANNAH ERHLICH- It was such a sweet moment to unroll Evanscent Permanence after not having seen it in over a year. To be included in Fresh Blood was a wonderful opportunity. Mason Fine Art was a great fit to exhibit this piece for the size alone, it required a lot of space.

To start off my career creating something on such a grand scale has left me feeling that the next piece I create has to be even better. I’ve worked through those feelings by really breaking down my emotions. I’ve realized no one has the power to judge if what I’ve made in the past is better than what I will make in the future. Conceptually it is not practical to try and duplicate the size of what I accomplished with Evanscent Permanence. Even trying to put pressure on myself to think those thoughts can be detrimental to my creative flow. Instead, I’m taking what I’ve learned from that experience and applying it to my work today.

Now that I’m working on my own outside of a school environment, I’ve recognized how much I miss that atmosphere. Being alone with your work without the constant instruction of professors or influence of your peers is an entirely different way of functioning. Figuring out the balance, getting in the right headspace, and working purposely outside of a regimented environment are areas I’m working to further develop.

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"I’ve accepted the fear that accompanies the creative process"

RIGBY INK- How do you create an inspirational environment? Sure, you have moments when your mind is racing with all of these thoughts coming to you. However, more often than not, artists actively have to create inspiration which is something I don’t believe is always discussed openly.

HE- Generally, I have to get in the zone with a lot of intention behind it. In the beginning, I worried that having to force myself into a creative headspace meant that I was possibly going against destiny. As an artist, I initially believed those moments of inspiration came with the job title. Despite those feelings, I’ve accepted the fear that accompanies the creative process. I don’t allow myself to be afraid during those moments of struggle. It’s important for all artists to know that like any other profession, there will be times when we don’t feel like working, even when you love what you’re doing.

For me, I’ve learned to create a process to break down the work that needs to be done. When you’re only looking at the big picture of the task at hand, it’s overwhelming, [and not very motivating]. I make goals to finish small manageable sections in my wovens and I’m able to work with more freedom of mind. Its really about cultivating a space where you can focus.

RIGBYINK- Do you find that your studio needs to be set up a certain way? When you take a break from your work is there something that you can go to that will help open up your mind?

HE- Sometimes when there is clutter inside of my studio it really does help for me to take a moment and organize my physical space. There is a real connection between a clean physical environment and a less distracted mind. Rearranging my studio can help me to reset and find new ways of creating. Also, being at the Goat Farm is inspiring in itself. One of my favorite things to do when I feel like I need a break is to walk outside and visit the goats. When I step outside, my mind is instantly at ease. It's amazing how nature can have that effect on me.

RIGBYINK- I read that initially in school you studied painting. What about textiles caught your eye?

HE- I had been painting for several years and when I got to college I was itching to try something new. Within my first week of school, I met my now good friend Kate Burke. Kate was enrolled in textiles and invited me along to an open house in the University’s textile department. I saw the wovens that Kate had made and I thought, “I have to do that!” It made such a strong impression on me and it was basically that very night that I switched my focus to textiles.

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RIGBY INK- How do you start the process of constructing your wovens?

HE- A lesson I’ve carried with me from school is to examine images I find inspiring. I’m especially drawn to landscapes and I particularly love the subtle gradient colors of J.M.W. Turner’s watercolor paintings. After studying his work I felt compelled to develop a similar effect within my woven work. 

The first step to planning Evanscent Permanence was sketching it out on paper using watercolors. Admittedly, it was a requirement for the class I was taking and I hastily sketched it late one night. I never referenced the sketch again until a few months after the onset of the project. As I later examined the sketch, I realized that my woven had taken a nearly identical design and color scheme. I couldn’t believe it.

I’ve learned that the art I’m creating is art that is inside of me. My process has become a self-discovery of searching and finding my work within myself. In the moment of quickly sketching that woven, it felt so natural to me and it stayed with my subconscious. When I was constructing Evanscent Permanence it was very much the same intuitive feeling.

RIGBY INK- What experiences took place for you to gain the confidence to trust your intuition?

HE- The process in which I make woven work is very forgiving. Experience working with the materials has given me the freedom to be okay with the varying possibilities of ideas I have. You can see that the material I use is tough, it’s not something that is delicate, or requires me to handle it carefully. I’ve learned to not treat my work like a precious object, but consider it a journey that is going to change throughout the process.

RIGBY INK- Have you been able to translate skills you’ve learned working with textile back into painting?

HE- Since I was eleven years old I had been painting very representationally and I wanted to be liberated from that. When I moved to textiles I challenged myself to allow the material to guide my decision-making process. When I returned to painting I made the commitment to paint from my mind while listening to music and forego the use of any external imagery. I wanted to be led by my feelings and the oil paints. After completing gradient abstract cloud and sky paintings I compared them to my woven work. Again I saw the striking visual similarities between the two mediums. This intuitive way of working is a tool that I rely upon with all of the work I create.

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RIGBY INK- You mentioned you’re working on smaller scaled pieces. What are projects you’re eager to take on in the future?

HE- Obviously, I would love the opportunity to work on another huge piece, but as a young artist, I must consider the financial costs involved in that large of a project. Currently, I’m taking on commission requests that allow me to continue creating my own experimental work on the side. At the moment I’m focused on the small journeys I take with each piece. I hope to come back to large scale again soon.

RIGBY INK- I can imagine its satisfying to scale back a little bit and have the process be more condensed. That way you’re able to finish things in a shorter timeline without losing your mind in the workload.

HE- For technical reasons alone working on a smaller scale is awesome because it allows me to show in galleries and exhibitions more frequently. I think of it as being able to refine my technique. My goal is to see if I can achieve similar effects in smaller pieces and it is a challenge that I’m excited to work on.

RIGBY INK- At this stage in your life, what message does your work convey?

HE- I have a bit of a broad message which is to encourage emotion and that's where color palettes, textures, and scale come into play. I want my pieces to be a space that people enter and an environment that they can feel rest and separation from outside voices. I want it to feel like a place of self-reflection without thinking about the ugly parts of yourself or the thoughts that bog you down. I want it to be a place where you can come to terms with the issues you struggle with and that you can work through them, knowing that your dark parts don’t own you.

To learn more about Hannah Ehrlich find her online at:

Website:  https://hannahehrlich.com 

Instagram: @hannahehrlich_art


Words Rigby Wrights

Images courtesy of Hannah Ehrlich

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.