MEET HANNAH MCBROOM | Artist
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
Hannah | I am a painter living in Overland Park, KS. I grew up in Starkville, MS and received a MFA in Art from the University of Arkansas this year and a BFA in Studio Art from Mississippi State University in 2015. I work mostly in oil and make allegorical figurative paintings based from my personal life. I'm working on a new series which will be a part of a solo show this September in Kansas City which focuses on religion and identity in the south (kinda).
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Hannah | I don't know exactly what I wanted to be. There were kids who wanted to be doctors, mechanics, or engineers. I grew up in Mississippi so there was a lot of agriculture and business that affected the community. I dreamed a lot of running away and becoming a pirate. Being an artist was one of those dreams but it was as far fetched as sailing across the sea. Reading and dreaming were the main things I did. My earliest interest in art was wanting to write an illustrated book with my younger brother. We couldn't decide on who needed to write or illustrate this story of puppies playing soccer. We eventually scrapped the project for more interesting pursuits outside.
How did you get started?
Hannah | I have several different versions of this story but it starts in high school. I have a family of artisans like my grandmother and mother who work with quilts which was an early introduction to color theory. All my friends were making art in my senior year and I decided to give it a shot. I went to Mississippi State University after high school because it was in my hometown and I wanted to study with two professors there Brent Funderburk and Jeffrey Haupt. First day of drawing class with Jeff he threw three cardboard slats on the ground and said draw them. Between the sheer terror of drawing 2D linear perspective and the excitement of being huffing oil paint I was hooked. That was 8 years ago and I haven't looked back.
What were some of the difficulties you faced in starting?
Hannah | The biggest struggle was committing to being an artist. I wanted to be a psychologist or a medical examiner originally but I didn't have the grades or drive to get me through the university system. I had a playstation in my parents house that I sold in my junior year so I could focus on making work. I knew at an early age I wanted to be a painters painter and imagined having a large studio where I'd work 6 days a week. I had a lot of support from my family. They let me stay at their place all through undergrad and helped me get through grad school either through financial support or calling me. I'm very fortunate in that way.
Hannah | Another difficulty was wrapping my head around what it means to be an artist who could be financially successful. There was the myth of the starving artist which was something that kept me from fully committing to launching a career out of undergrad. I have a mentor and dear friend, Sharon Louden, who called bs on that myth. I was at a residency in 2017 and she gave a lecture on professional development, something that isn't taught in undergraduate or graduate level classes. Between her mentorship and seeing what the art market was like at Art Basil last December I understood fully how a career in the arts could be formatted for my benefit.
In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build back up?
Hannah | My family has a long history of depression so I'm used to the ups and downs that come with being human. When I have a depressive spell and have to finish pieces for a client or show I go slow and tell myself "it's not your fault, it's okay to take a break, call your mom." I tend to keep to myself and not talk for a few days. Most of my friends know this so I don't feel too guilty in not communicating actively for a week or so. I try and go running 2-3 times a week which is very beneficial. Actively keeping a running schedule has been very beneficial for my mental health. Feeling that I have a good body and can finish a workout is an emotional boost I wouldn't normally get from other forms of self care.
What is your best advice to someone just starting out?
Hannah | Find your support base: either friends or people you respect who can help you solve problems and give you emotional support.
If there are any distractions nip those in the butt sooner rather than later.
Being an artist is time consuming work. If you're not producing more than 20+ hours in the studio you're falling behind. I’m in the studio 50 hours a week on average.
If you're wanting to improve you have to work on things that make you uncomfortable. You can do the easy stuff later.
Be social! Go to events and network. Most sales, shows, and commissions come from getting your name out (not just on the internet).
Be gracious (humble too). A mentor told me this recently. There’s a lot of moments for growth and reflection out there. You just have to be listening and ready to receive it.
What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
Hannah | It's okay to fail. Actually go and fail harder and make better work. I learned that my second semester in grad school and disgruntling embraced it fully my last semester. Actually trying something even though it's idiotic is part of what makes being an artist worthwhile. If you can embrace that idea you can make logical jumps that would otherwise take a longer time to develop. Most of the stuff I paint is failures leading to last minute resolution.
Another would be if you're making something that's easy you're not doing it right. There are so many projects where they were terrifying at the beginning but they always end up being the better pieces. Usually during the process of making them I figure out what I want to be making next which is beneficial.
What is your favorite part of what you do?
Hannah | I get to be weird.
To wake up every morning and go into the studio to work.
Networking on the weekends at art exhibits! My new favorite thing.
Smelling freshly mixed paint with hints of walnut oil and damar varnish.
The little aha moments where everything falls into place making the first 40+ hours of struggle in a painting worthwhile.
The moments of deep focus when working for hours in the studio.
What inspires you?
Hannah | There's this Arctic Monkey's music video of "The View from the Afternoon" where the drummer is jamming in the middle of the cold wintery night. The imagery and meaning mirror similar struggles of producing in the studio. As a younger artist I was in love with films that were nonlinear or anti-narrative stories where you could only infer a meaning never anything direct. The films were something you could only see in the periphery of your mind.I've recently gotten into poetry. Writers like Maggie Nelson and Jennifer Espinoza are emotionally visual in the way their descriptions of moments both small and large. A few years ago I was reading a lot of philosophy like Zizek, Espinoza, Butler, and Foucault; writers who were trying to describe the things that were so meaningful but insignificant from the outside.
Who inspires you?
Hannah | My friends who make work everyday. Instagram has been such an eye opener where I can find new works/artists to fall in love with. Every trans and non binary artist I find I immediately eat up all the work they make. Being a transwoman I'm in awe of other transwomen who are producing work on every level just because it's so much harder receiving an art education (or not!), transitioning (medically or socially), and still making work while keeping your sanity.
There's two artist's that inspired me early on: Brent Funderburk and Jenny Saville.
Brent was a professor in my undergrad who inspired (and reminded me) to dream and reflect. He is a very spiritual person and an amazing artist/teacher/friend. He was always itching to get into the studio and sharing stuff he discovered while not in class.
Jenny Saville is a figurative artist based in England who makes these larger than life nudes. As a young artist I would get her catalogue in the mail and fawn over the glossy images of paint globs that defined legs, stomachs, or jawlines. She had a way of making paintings that were both sexy and grotesque at the same time. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't be making paintings today.
Name some local creatives that you really admire.
Hannah | In the NWA area I'm really into Kathy Thompson, Kellie Lehr, Aimée Papazian, Cindy Arsaga, Neil Callander and Adrienne Callander to name a few. There's also so many artists in the area. When I first came here I was surprised at how welcoming the artist community there is.
What message would you like to share with your fellow women in the community?
Hannah | If you're a creative working and producing keep going. I'm here for you and support you.
ABOUT * The Author
Photography and Q+A by Rachel Fox , @0utsidetheboxfox .
Rachel is also the Founder of the NWA GIRL GANG.