Meet Hanna Washburn

Born in Boston, MA / Works in Hudson Valley, NY

Hanna Washburn’s artist page

Hanna is part of Curina’s current virtual exhibition, Taste of You.

Q. The idea for this exhibition Taste of You came from a larger vein of thinking of intimacy outside of romantic relationships. For example, food rituals with families and friends being a sensual experience yet aromantic. What kind of personal connection do you have to your own work — especially in regards to how tactile they are?

I think a lot about intimacy in my work, and how it relates to process and materiality.

I use almost entirely recycled materials — a lot of the fabric is clothing from my own life or from somebody close to me. Sometimes I incorporate actual objects from my childhood, or old and broken furnitute from my parents’ attic.

As my process is time-intensive, I think about these materials and their history while I am making. There is a ritualistic aspect to my process. My resulting sculptures have a lot to do with memory, and how it informs your current experiences. I am interested in things that are evocative of the body or a domestic space without being literal, just tugging at that association.

Watermelon radishes with Hanna Washburn, Semi Supine

Q. Do you ever imagine what your works taste like?

Visually, I use a lot of bright and pastel colors, which have a dessert association. There’s definitely a frosting component!

One of my favorite things is watching movies, and I love to revisit movies from my childhood. Often, the way food is portrayed in movies really sticks with me. Especially in animated movies, when food can be almost otherworldly — you start imagining what something might taste like, based on your memory and imagination.

One scene that has really stayed with me since childhood is in Sleeping Beauty. When I was little I really loved the three godmother fairies because they’re so goofy! They decide they want to hold this birthday celebration for Sleeping Beauty, and bake her a cake and make a dress without using their magic. And they both come out really bad. Something about that cake really resonated with me; I used to draw it a lot. It’s a huge, layered, blue cake. It starts falling over and the godmothers use a broom to prop it up. Something about that visual: wonky, struggling to stand, the handmade-ness of the process.

I think my sculptures would taste like how I imagine that cake tastes.

Q. What is one memorable food-sharing ritual (holiday-related or not)?

I often reflect on fond memories associated with food, and the way they can change over time. Right after I moved to New York, about 6 years ago, my husband and I went to Coney Island on

a beautiful day. We had never been there before, and we had such a great time! I had this crab cake from a food stand, and I still think about it all the time. I have this really vibrant memory of how amazing it tasted. Maybe it was actually an exceptional crab cake, but I think it’s more likely that I was having a magical day, and all my senses kind of blended together to make that memory.

Q. Send me your favorite recipe!

I’m actually not a big recipe-follower because, I think, in my art I work intuitively and organically without planning things that much. I have a hard time sticking to a formula. I get really impatient!

On your process…

Q. Looks like you started out with flat mixed media pieces. What prompted you to start making free standing sculpture?

It’s funny, I didn’t think of sculpture as a new medium because it happened pretty organically.

In grad school, I started making paintings by stitching together my old socks — I’m always been inspired by things that are around me, by what’s in my home and the intimacy of objects you live with.

So I started with these recycled fabric paintings, and they gradually became more dimensional. I started thinking about negative space, like openings in clothing such as neck holes or sleeves, and how they are making a space for the body. It felt natural for me to progress to creating the positive space of the body, and the forms beneath the clothing. And I still do make things that are flat or frontal, works that are more connected to the language of painting.

But I think of them (both flat and dimensional) as coming from the same space. My freestanding works maybe have a more anthropomorphic presence, but I’ve been trying to connect these two types of work. I am experimenting with wall works that reach out more, and freestanding works that have a relationship to the wall.

Q. Where does your fabric come from? Do you scavenge?

Most of my fabric is recycled — things from my own life, or the lives of my friends and family. I am especially drawn to colors or patterns that evoke memory or childhood — floral patterns are really important in my work.

The same way I recycle materials, I often recycle older works back into my process to make new things. Or, I will revisit works later to add patches or fresh paint. That allows me to maintain a lot of space for mistakes and re-imagining in my practice. It’s really liberating!

Q. So how do those forms build? How much is planned?

I work really improvisationally. I like to leave a lot of openness in my work.

Sometimes I find an object I’m attached to, or a piece of fabric someone gave me. I usually start with a more basic composition, two or three different kinds of fabric, to get a color palette ready. I occasionally use the sewing machine in the beginning to do some more structural work, since it’s faster and I can see if something will work or not. I will always go back and hand-sew everything, which is time intensive, but I really like how physical and methodical it is.

For what goes inside, sometimes I use stuffing, sometimes I stuff them with found objects.

It’s really about walking around my studio and making connections — this color is interesting with that color; this reminds me of something…

Q. For Soft Object II, what found object did you use?

Hanna Washburn, Soft Object II

It’s doll furniture — a doll chair from my childhood.

Scale is a really important factor in the way you relate to a sculpture — whether you confront it as an object, or a body on your own scale. I like to play with scale and installation. Sometimes things that are smaller ask the viewer to put in a little more work, look closer

Q. You mentioned your works being anthropomorphic. So ideally, how should they be displayed and engaged?

Photographing works outdoors.

I don’t have a firm answer — I’m interested in people’s intuitive responses. A lot of people ask if they can touch or hug my sculptures, and I like that reaction. I struggle sometimes with how best to present my work. Sometimes it is helpful to see the sculptures in a white space, removed from other associations, but it doesn’t always make sense.

These days I’m pretty much always at home, and my studio is in my apartment. At the beginning of this time at home, I struggled to document my new work without an empty, white space. I started photographing some things in my apartment or my backyard, and I have really enjoyed that process. It actually really helps me see things differently.

Q. What new things do you want to try in 2021?

Hanna’s new ceramic piece

I want to focus more on my hobbies. Especially when you have an artistic career, I think it is important to have creative hobbies outside of that. I love making my work, but sometimes it feels like the stakes are high. I’ve been getting back into ceramics, which is something I’ve always loved. I am considering ways to incorporate ceramics into my practice, but I am also letting myself play around. I’ve also started to play the piano again, which I haven’t done since I was a teenager. I am trying to be better about making time for things that are just fun, things that are just for me.

All images from artist Hanna Washburn.

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