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An interview with Hannah Tilson

After starting her art career at the age of 16 as an artists assistant, and graduating from The Slade School of Fine Art in 2018, Hannah Tilson is now making waves of her own in the art world.



What’s your background, what should people know about Hannah Tilson? 


I am 23 years old, I was born in London, grew up in Peckham but I am technically more Scottish than I am English. I studied for my BA at the Slade School of Fine Art and while I was there did a term abroad at the New York Studio School. I started playing the trombone when I was 6 because at that age I thought it was hilarious that it sounded like a fart. Last year I joined my current band 'The Deep’, with my partner in crime and fellow artist Ranald Macdonald. We are a 7-piece band who perform in immersive art installations painted by our artist friends and collaborators Mark Connolly and Alice Macdonald. I also sometimes play for my friend's band ‘Yak', we will be playing in Victoria Park at All Points East this summer! I have a slight obsession with cats and take karaoke far too seriously. I once spent an hour bus journey practicing a song and refused to let my friend Billy go to the toilet until I had sung it, in case he missed it.  


How does it feel to be a woman playing an active role in the art world?


I have experienced gender-based inequality in other areas of my life but, living and working in London, I feel protected as a female artist.


How do you balance part-time jobs along with being an artist? Any advice that you would give?


I have been working as an artist assistant since I was 16. I got the job when I was at school and have been there ever since. I was lucky enough to learn important skills that apply to my practice as well as my job. I work two or three days a week, there are some weeks that I hardly get in the studio and that is hard but you have to be disciplined. If the opportunity of an artist assistant job arises I would say grab it! People often want help and you never know the connections that you are going to make.




How do you think negative critiques have improved/can improve your work?


You have to learn not to listen to the negative or even positive comments too much and just make the work you want to make. That is the hardest thing, to not get distracted by peoples opinions and to remain unaffected by them. At the end of the day, if your work leaves an impression on someone, be it good or bad, you have achieved something! 


What’s your opinion on how art galleries treat exhibiting artists, are there improvements that could be made? 


A lot of the shows that I have been involved with have been put on by artists so they understand the artistic process and what is going on inside your head which I think helps with how you are treated! I think that the artist gallerists relationship is one of reciprocity. If you give good work and treat them well it is a mutually beneficial thing. It is important to have a gallery that supports you as a human as well as an artist and respects your vision/understands that there are highs and lows in the artistic process and that you may be very proactive one month and then need to spend the next month drawing and thinking.


After visiting your studio it became apparent you have pushed your work in a different direction, can you explain more?


My practice is always changing and growing, I constantly try and push myself and take my work to new places. Since graduating and getting my own studio I have had the chance to have all of my work up around me. I found these rolled up woven canvases that I made in the first year at Slade and a painting that I had embroidered into and found it really interesting how much they related to my most recent work. I wanted to bring the stitched element back into my work and feel that this is starting to happen in the work I am making now. I am interested in the relationship between the embroidery and the plastic beads, they almost act like pixels and I like how they work off each other. I have also recently been painting on and within a glass frame. Layering is an important part of my work, through building up these layers and painting on different planes the pieces start to act almost like a play set, creating open spaces between the glass and background painting, concealing and revealing parts of the image.




Who are your top three favourite emerging artists?


At the moment I am really excited by the work that Tamara Macarthur, Zoe Spowage and Sara Antis are making.

What’s next for you?

I have an exciting project coming up with a print studio in London who is known for making painterly prints. The process will involve me working alongside them, painting on transparent sheets and building up layers and collages to create an original print. I am excited to see how this process influences my studio practice. In October I am heading to Italy for a three-week residency at Palazzo Monti!



Edited by Ellie Pennick and Grace Goslin

6th May 2019

Photography by Viola Zichy 

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