“Each individual artist has a unique way of seeing color,” says painter Hannah Bureau. It should come as no surprise, if you have seen her textural, softly geometric landscapes, that she prefers grays. Before this description brings the word “drab” to mind, know that with these grays Bureau builds vibrant impressions of a scene observed. Fields and sky are rendered in warm and cool grays, with strokes of lilac, ashen green, and blue. Bureau’s wide, fluid brush strokes, thick with paint, impart the richness in the memory of a landscape, while her palette acts as the soft haze of recollection.
At the age of 8, Bureau moved from Paris to the US with her family, in which she is “the fourth generation of women painters.” As she puts it, she grew up “literally surrounded by art and architecture. My mother and grandmother’s work hung on every wall along with sketches by my father and grandfather who were both architects.”
She pursued art throughout her education, first at the Putney School, then Bard College and the Rhode Island School of Design, and received her MFA in Fine Art from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Bureau currently teaches painting at RISD, and as the mother of twin girls she says she “strives to bring art into their lives as well as balancing time in the studio with motherhood.”
We recently had the chance to ask Hannah about her process and inspiration, in time for her solo exhibition at Edgewater Gallery this month.
Morning in Blue I & II, 30″ x 30″, oil on canvas
What drew you to landscapes? What do you feel landscape brings compared to other subjects?
I enjoy the process of editing out what is not essential, and creating the essence of a scene without depicting all the detail. Painting landscape connects me to the beauty of nature and I am constantly striving to capture this beauty on the canvas. All aspects of an abstract painting can be found in nature; abstract shapes and colors, composition, line and texture are all elements that I draw on.
What’s something you would like people seeing your art to know about your process?
My palette is very large in my studio. I love mixing oil paints into beautiful and subtle chromatic grays and pushing them towards warm and cool temperatures. Each individual artist has a unique way of seeing color. I prefer subtle, toned down grays and tend towards cooler colors. I work to keep the immediacy of mark making; to splatter and drip and be very spontaneous. Oil painting feels a bit out of control and free for me, very much like my day to day life – a beautiful mess.
Who are some artists who’ve inspired you?
I regularly look to many mid century abstract painters such as Richard Diebenkorn and Willem de Kooning for their bold and lyrical brushwork and loose treatment of paint.
Is there a teacher with whom you have studied whose guidance has stayed with you? Is there any piece of wisdom you’ve received that you want to pass along?
My teacher from high school, Eric Aho, has had a lasting influence on my work. In high school he told our class that it doesn’t matter what color you choose for painting something as long as it is the right value. I am constantly trying to improve my sense of value in color. I squint a lot at my paintings!
Another mentor of mine has been Jon Imber, whose canvases inspire me. He reminded me always to include opposites in my paintings, for example, warm and cool colors, hard and soft edges, big and little shapes, and on and on.
How do you feel your style has changed? What do you like about where you are now?
I really vacillate between pure abstraction and more representational landscape. It is very organic for me to move from one to the other fluidly, and it depends completely on what I want to see at the moment. Each informs the other and I learn from both approaches. I enjoy discovering where my work will lead on any given day.
Do you work in any other medium or are there other passions you have? Do these ever play into your painting?
Recently I have a passion for garden design. Just as in painting, gardening involves layering, scale, value, timing, texture, and rhythm.