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Hannah Mooney (b.1995) is an Irish painter based in the west of Ireland. She currently works in two distinct subjects; still life and the landscape. In both she is an instinctive, natural painter concerned with the matière and traditional composition. She studied at University of Ulster and Glasgow School of Art. In 2014 she received the Deanes Award for High Achievement from University of Ulster. Since graduating in 2017 from Glasgow School of Art, she has received the Royal Scottish Academy Landscape Drawing Prize, John-Kinross scholarship, James Nicol McBroom Memorial Prize, Armour Prize, Glasgow Print Studio Publication Prize, Hottinger Award for Excellence and House for an Art Lover Award. In 2018 she won the Fleming-Wyfold Bursary at the New Contemporaries Exhibition in at the Royal Scottish Academy. Her work has been acquired for the following collections: Art in Healthcare UK, Hottinger Group, Fleming- Wyfold Collection, James Nicol McBroom Archive and the Royal Scottish Academy.
Since graduating Hannah has taken part in several group shows and had two successful solo shows in Edinburgh.
My oil paintings explore landscape areas that I have visited throughout my life. I believe that places can have a lifelong impact on us. Like our own emotions, we often cannot comprehend or understand what they have invoked in us until a later date. Painting is a means of revisiting these places. Each time I paint these areas I arrive at different results. On surface level these places remain relatively physically unchanged. However, my handling of paint, colour palette and interpretation of them evolves naturally with time. Oil paint is a limitless form of expression. There is so much to learn and grapple with. Every day holds a new lesson and is subsequently meaningful and precious.
I think we are all drawn to the landscape at some part of our lives for different reasons. It is a refuge and remedy for all. Most people I know receive joy from being outside, engaging with nature and exploring the countryside. It brings us out of ourselves, into a universal plane and is accessible to all. There is an abundance of growth here which energises me. It has a positive impact on my practice and personal well- being. I gain so much pleasure from observing the changing of seasons, the new growth that appears every year; its order and consistency. The fresh buds grow, swell and burst into flora. They even make their own unique sound as they do so. These cycles seem special. They help me mark the passage of time in the simple yet rich life I have here in County Mayo.
As a young artist I have learnt that success comes in small recesses and appreciate any progress when it comes. Painting is like many forms of art and craft; what appears to be an effortless activity has been exercised daily. Working every day in the studio has helped me maintain a close relationship with paint. Walking outside refreshes my mind, psyche, memory and I return with restored confidence and ideas anew. Landscape painting relies so much on achieving effects; portraying light, darkness, depth, transience and drama. The more I try to paint natural phenomena the more I realise that nature cannot necessarily be explained but only sensed and felt. None of my paintings are greatly detailed; I try to treat paintings as observational sketches in which the essence and spirit of place is captured.
The areas that I have painted are of particular importance perhaps because they have drawn me back to Ireland time and again. They encompass character, mood and mystery that I feel will always intrigue me. I feel as though I can learn from these places and revisit them like old friends, acquiring new knowledge and insight with every meeting. They give so much to me and never ask for anything in return.
Q1. What first inspired your practice?
Like most artists, I started painting when I was very young. I did my art foundation at University of Ulster
and completed my studies at Glasgow School of Art. During my first year at University of Ulster in
Belfast, I spent a lot of time drawing still life subjects and frequented the Botanic Gardens to study
flowers and plants. I’ve always been compelled to natural organic forms. In my penultimate year at
Glasgow School of Art I became interested in observational painting and returned to Ireland often. It
was the only place that made me feel creative.
Q2. What has been your background / training and how influential has that subsequently been?
I grew up in a family of artists which has been both a good and bad thing. They have inevitably
influenced me and the amount of importance I place on painting. In my early twenties I began painting
outside with my father. He has never lost enthusiasm to paint and this was quite infectious to be around
growing up. My mother was equally determined in her field of interest and her work ethic rarely
dwindles. Both were and still are serious painters. Painting has always been an essential part of our daily
In Glasgow, my tutors and contemporaries at GSA were very influential. Contemporary art schools are
often criticised for not offering enough classes, teaching or guidance. I don’t see this as wholly true or a
particularly negative aspect of university. It pushes students to become strong-willed and self-reliant
which is more beneficial in the long run.
Most well directed artists choose their influences carefully. Mine are chosen based on my level of skill,
interest and ability at that time. Creatives can learn a lot from each other, generate ideas, positivity and
energy which prevents stagnancy and repetition in the studio. At this point in my career, I work best
with limited influences and in places where I am undisturbed. Too much stimulation can cloud the mind.
In the past it has misled me from my original intent. Working remotely is the best way I can make
paintings that make sense to me and ultimately work that I want to continue.
Q3. Tell me more about your subject matter and the inspiration for your work?
There are many subjects I would like to paint. It is hard to walk outside here and not develop ideas for
paintings. My ambition to start a piece could be prompted by something as simple as witnessing a
muted blue on a gloomy overcast day or watching golden evening light triumph across otherwise
ordinary fields around me. Every day is different and colour activity vibrantly changes throughout the
seasons. These cycles bring me hope. They reassure me that there will always be inspiration for new
paintings. I feel as though there is a lot ahead of me to learn about oil painting, place and how to
connect the two.
At the moment I only have the technical ability to interpret certain landscapes. There are countless skies
that inspire me but cannot capture. A cirrus sky is perhaps the most beautiful sky of all but impossible to
paint. All subjects and times of day require alternate techniques and methods. Every painter has a
different approach. Perhaps the longer one paints, the more one relies on learnt and developed
formulae practiced over time. I don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing.
18th Century painter Pierre-Henri de Valiennes believed that no artist should spend longer than two
hours on an oil sketch; his argument being that sunsets and sunrises only lasted half an hour. His
paintings possess a clarity comparable to works of Camille Corot. The same demand for freshness is
evident in the work of John Constable. Although Constable experienced periods of self-doubt and at
times lacked objectivity, he never lost desire to learn about nature and transcribe it faithfully in
graphite, charcoal, watercolour and oil paint.
Regarding subject matter for painting; I will always desire to paint places that have stayed in my
memory over time. The longer I live in the countryside, organic forms, atmospheric and elemental
phenomenon become more familiar to me. They grow on my psyche and lend me a spirit, strength and
voice in painting.
Q4. Do you usually work en plein air? Does your work continue in the studio?
No. When I started painting, I believed that the best paintings were painted from life and that focusing
on this would somehow make my work more authentic. On reflection, maybe this was an old-fashioned
and narrow-minded view. It was keeping me from making progress technically. I now accept that in
order to develop skill and knowledge about my medium and subject, I require further support material
such as drawings, notes and photography. I tell myself daily that this is a way forward and by no means a
weakness nor a shortcut. . The studio is an important place of study and revival of empirical data I have
gathered on walks or trips to chosen landscape areas. It is a space to meditate on the memories and
ideas I have formed outdoors. I believe I will return to painting en plein air again as it is a great challenge
and way to learn.
Q5. The quality of gestural mark-making is evident in your practice. Tell me more about the significance
of mark-making processes for you?
Mark making is a form of communication. Just as poets say that poems often start with a few words, a
painting starts with a few marks which the painter chooses to assort in a particular way. After visiting a
new place and creating drawings, I sometimes do not attempt to paint it for months or maybe years. I
enjoy having this control over my subject matter; it reassures me that I am following my own
Gestural mark-making is necessary when painting landscapes. Perception of the physical world depends
on light. Mark-making is a means of differentiating between light and form. I have always enjoyed using
different tools and familiarising myself with these so that I can express them clearly. Working on a
slightly larger scale has helped my confidence and ability to recognise ‘successful accidents’ that capture
light in an unconventional or spontaneous way.
Regarding gesture: the more gesture involved, the more meaningful and personal the mark becomes.
Intuitive painting requires daily practice, revision, trial and error. It is difficult to put painting into words,
just as it is difficult to describe why music can evoke certain feelings and memories in us. Both art forms
can make sense of experiences in a beautiful cathartic way. For this reason, I find periods spent away
from the studio bewildering and prefer to stay close to my work.
Q6. Who or what has been your greatest influence as an artist? Which artists most inspire you?
It has changed appropriately over time, often based on my surroundings and health. Initially I was inspired by Joan Eardley for reasons I could not understand at the time. I first saw her work in Edinburgh
before I started oil painting and it made a huge impression on me. She wonderfully captures the aweinspiring feeling of being on the shore and beside crashing waves. As a person she was passionate and
strong-minded. Eardley made life style choices in order to be a better painter. In her thirties she moved
to the coast of Catterline. There she made work free from artistic fads or trends of the central London
belt and developed her own practice. Her paintings were successful in their own right and timeless works of art.
John Constable is equally inspirational for countless reasons. I admire the loyalty he had to his birthplace
and unyielding adoration for English countryside. He was one of the first landscape artists to follow his own vision, reject the academic norms and stop painting generalised depictions of nature. At a time
when landscapes were made to please and conform to preconceived notions of pictorial landscape
painting, he painted black trees, incorporated shadows, melancholy and mood into his oil sketches.
Constable was self-directed and inquisitive which allowed him to experiment and excel. What began as a
humble pursuit led him to commit to large, ambitious compositions done from memory in his studio at the later part of his career. Just as John Constable challenged landscape oil painting, I feel Norman Ackroyd has does the same in etching. His depiction of luminous light and its relationship with land and water is mesmerising. On all
kinds of scales, he powerfully captures rays that seem to come straight from the earth. Silvery, magic moonlight is portrayed in an exquisite and effortless way. His etchings tastefully nod to great celebrated
Romantic paintings and prints of the past. I adore the abstract quality and selective realism of his work.
It reminds us that art can be true to life, portray real sensations and things, but it does not have to depict everything. Ackroyd leaves out irrelevant details and retains the mystery and allure of landscape.
Q7. What is the most challenging element of your practice?
Initially I found it difficult to find a suitable, affordable studio in Glasgow. Many young artists face the
same problem after graduating from art school. I was fortunate that I had exhibitions to work towards in the year after graduation. The Fleming-Wyfold art foundation and Royal Scottish Academy gave me a lot of support and reasons to keep working. This gave me more self-belief and subsequently I allocated a lot of time to developing a studio practice. The most challenging element of my practice now is the physical demand of daily painting. It takes a toll on my body and I find that difficult to accept. Living rurally has helped me overcome this. I have learnt that maintaining a balance is key to consistency. During times of poor physical health, I benefit from reading and drawing. This distance away from the studio can be useful as I often return with ideas anew,
restored incentive and appreciation for paint.
Q8. How do the processes of drawing, print-making and painting relate to each other in your work?
On sunny days, which are rare here, I wake with too much energy and I sometimes go outside and draw
trees. I don’t know if this has served as useful for my painting but believe it improves my memory of the
outdoors just as walking does. It helps me think about different ways I could recreate certain color
relations in paint.
One of my biggest regrets was only taking up etching in my final year. The technician was excellent and I
could have learnt a lot more had I taken up the medium sooner. He was able to make sense of my
drawings and helped me hone my ideas. This is very useful at art school where students have a tendency
to overcomplicate what they doing and become disillusioned and directionless. During this time, I began
to look at artists that resonated with me. Amongst these were Pietro Annigoni, John Constable,
Rembrandt and Norman Ackroyd. I was astounded by their innovative treatment of landscape and
ability to transcribe nature so simply yet powerfully.
Q9. What for you are the desired essential qualities of image-making?
I love setting out with an image in mind which often starts with the sky. Every painter begins with a
certain degree of control and lends some of that over to oil paint in the process of image-making. The
results are a visual representation of that activity; the play between painter and paint. Perhaps this is
what gives each painting a different mood and personality. It is a wonderful thing when a painting can
lighten or darken someones mood.
Q10. How do you see your work relating to tradition and contemporary art practice?
Painting, like any craft requires an amount of study. I enjoy reviewing the work of my 18th and 19th
century predecessors who explored nature and opened up expressive horizons for landscape painting.
However, I have not had the same academic training they have had therefore I choose not to compare
myself to them or my contemporaries. I try not to contextualise my practice too much and let my own
interests and experiences guide me. I hope that this will help me avoid categorization and progress at a
suitable, sustainable pace.
Q11. How do different environments inspire you?
I work best in quiet environments without too much stimulation. Living rurally has given me more time
and energy for work. Nature is proven to relax the brain. It has helped my concentration and ability
clearly assess works. Breaks from the studio are necessary in order to maintain objectivity. There are
simple yet delightful distractions that the countryside has to offer; birds nesting outside my studio and
daily walks to savor the changing aroma of the earth. This time spent outside, walking in all kinds of
conditions has always been an important factor in my life. It is a health-giver and enhances my mood,
memory and curiosity.
Q12. What are the latest developments in your work?
Since moving back to Ireland in 2020, I find it easier to separate from the expectations of others and any
labels previously attached to my work. Like most painters, I experience periods of doubt and
disconnection from my practice. With more time spent here, these become less and less.
I am enjoying working on a slightly larger scale and allowing myself to spend longer resolving paintings.
It requires a different way of handling paint and covering surface area. I sand areas down, use
turpentine washes, glazes, a series of different sized brushes and palette knives. These tools help me
draw the viewers eye to different parts of the painting. I enjoy having this control over my medium. I
now ask others for their opinions and to share what they see in an image. Too often painters do not
express their original intent to or recognise their strengths and weaknesses. In my latest landscapes I
have been working from source material gathered over the last few years. I hope to achieve a balance
between light, darkness, turbulence and calm. Ultimately, I wish for them to capture a transience or
feeling that is true to life and my own experiences as a landscape artist.
by Dr Claudia Milburn
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher
William Wordsworth, extract from The Tables Turned (1798)
Hannah Mooney’s mentor is the natural world. A young Irish painter, based in County Mayo, she responds to the environment that surrounds her, the animation of light, weather and seasons. For her, it is an all-consuming subject matter observed through walking, and laden with subtlety and drama. Captivated by the ever-changing character of this landscape, her subject is ceaselessly motivational prompting a zest for experiential learning, “There is so much to learn and grapple with. Every day holds a new lesson and is subsequently meaningful and precious.”
Deeply-rooted in the West coast of Ireland where every stone can hold a story, Mooney’s sense of place is paramount. She is drawn, time and again, to the landscapes frequented throughout her life, and which lie fundamentally close to her heart. It’s this homeland environment that enticed her return after studying at Glasgow School of Art. A close emotional connection, built on experience and interaction, fuels her work – nature, art and life are indivisibly entwined in her identity. Memory is ingrained in the ground she walks, and she walks this ground every day, revisiting her memories while adding to them anew.
Whether drawing en-plain air or returning to her studio to paint, the work embodies a directness of response, freshly inspired by the landscape and atmosphere her eyes and mind have absorbed. She handles the viscosity of paint, engaging with the gestural marks that build to inform the evolving work, often employing a broad slab- like stroke with brush and palette knife on gesso ground.
There is no doubting the impassioned desire which drives Mooney to develop ideas and her openness to their direction of travel. She appreciates the organic evolution of the work over time, experience and maturity. Each day afresh forms an integral part of that journey. Recognising that in making significant form, it is necessary to find its essential poetic spirit, she sees the poetry of paint as an appropriate means through which to respond, “Everyday I wake up and feel there is so much to learn and take in. I yearn to grow more observant and be able to capture the natural beauty around me.”
Mooney is developing her distinctive language. She is an intuitive artist, translating emotional engagement with her principal subjects – landscape and still-life – with honesty and quietude. Whether it be crepuscular light descending over the hills on County Mayo (Evening Light over Hills, Co. Mayo, 2022), a golden glow accentuating the silhouette of mountains behind Lough Mask (Light over Lough Mask, 2021), soft warm hues gentling animating skies of twilight blue over North Mayo (Light over North Mayo Hills, 2022), a lone cloud hovering over Ballyglass (Cloud over Ballyglass, 2022), the turbulent temperament of the Atlantic (Seascape I, 2021) or a vase of pink lillies dissolving into a rustic, terracotta backdrop (Pink Lillies, 2022), Mooney clutches the magic of these moments to capture them on canvas.
With ultimate respect for nature’s sublime beauty, Mooney is acutely conscious of the immensity of the landscape as subject, and by comparison, the minutia of her presence. She works assiduously to discover how it is possible for such ephemeral experiences to be interpreted through her medium, “The more I try to paint natural phenomena the more I realise that nature cannot necessarily be explained but only sensed and felt.” ’For her, painting is a process of observation, contemplation and translation.
Mooney’s approach exemplifies her ability to pare down the composition, seizing the essence of her subject through exploration of mood, colour sensibility and technique. Working to retain the distinctive atmosphere and vitality of the elemental nature of her subject, she strives to express the impact Irish landscape has had on her psyche over time:
“The areas that I have painted are of particular importance perhaps because they have drawn me back to Ireland time and again. They encompass character, mood and mystery that I feel will always intrigue me. I feel as though I can learn from these places and revisit them like old friends, acquiring new knowledge and insight with every meeting. They give so much to me and never ask for anything in return.”
While motivated and guided by her own experiences, Mooney connects and responds to those artists before her who have been determined, independent and self-directed in their pursuit, not wishing to be governed by current trends or practices. She pays homage to her 18th and 19th century predecessors and the paths they opened for landscape painting, particularly referencing French artists Pierre- Henri de Valenciennes (1750 – 1819) and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875) and the English landscape painter of the Romantic tradition, John Constable (1776 – 1837). Given Mooney’s dedication to the landscape of her home and her independent drive to paint, her veneration for Constable is not surprising, “I admire the loyalty he had to his birthplace and unyielding adoration for English countryside. He was one of the first landscape artists to follow his own vision, reject the academic norms and stop painting generalised depictions of nature.”
In a similar realm, Mooney finds inspiration in the Scottish coastal landscape paintings of Joan Eardley (1921-1963), “She wonderfully captures the awe-inspiring feeling of being on the shore and beside crashing waves. As a person she was passionate and strong-minded. Eardley made life choices in order to be a better painter.”
A further significant influence for Mooney is found in the etchings of Norman Ackroyd both for his ability to capture the drama and spirit of Britain’s most remote locations and the reduction of the image to its essential elements, “Ackroyd leaves out irrelevant details and retains the mystery and allure of landscape.”
Continually energised by her surroundings, it is the essence and spirit of place that governs her work and provides its essential strength – the particularities of that place enthusing and driving her forward. The prevailing weather of the West with the unique qualities of its light falling on the rugged Connemara coastline, its great panoramic vistas, sea fluidly meeting sky, the Atlantic wind sweeping and enveloping the land and the Ocean with its relentless energy. This spectacular landscape instils mystery with its grandeur and wildness.
For Mooney, truth to her experience and the freedom to work autonomously and independently is imperative. Her paintings reflect her mentality – an enquiring mind searching through paint, channelling the energy, mood and spirit of place through her sensibility. Her landscapes combine drama with a quiet stillness, echoing her pensive disposition. The natural world for Mooney offers “refuge and remedy” – it is both her guide and her friend.