Press / Los Angeles Times

Featured Artist of January 2008 - Moira Hahn

Moira is an painter from the US with a background in fine art. She studied animation and after working in the animation and illustrated books and magazines industry for some years she traveled to Hawai and Japan to study the Japanese art. Her works shows a beautiful mixture of Western and Asian influences, often with subliminal messages hidden in the painting. Please read the interview below to get to know Moira and her work a bit better.

Christa: Can you tell us a bit about yourself: Who you are and what you do in your daily life?

Moira: I’m an American painter with a background in fine art, animation and illustration. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, grew up in Maryland and lived in Hawaii for five years, but have lived in California for most of my adult life. My interests include Asian art genres and subjects, but aren’t limited to them. A lot of my art combines European and Asian influences.

Christa: Where did you go to school and how did they prepare you for your career?

Moira: I dropped out of high school when I was sixteen to study art at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland, earning a BFA there. I later studied film graphics and animation in a graduate program at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, California. In 2000, I earned an MFA in fine art at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). I learned the most at MICA, which had a classical academic approach to art education. It’s faculty, including Abby Sangiamo and Cyril Satorsky, inspired me to adopt more disciplined work habits, devote more thought to research and develop my imagination.

Christa: Which software packages and/or traditional materials do you use for your artwork?

Moira: I use Photoshop and Illustrator to plan compositions from reference photos and other sources and to integrate text. What you see as my ‘final product’, in galleries, is hand drawn and painted, using graphite, ink, watercolor and occasionally colored ink and markers.

Christa: Do you remember the first time you knew you wanted to be an artist?

Moira: Yes, I was five years old. My mother, a second-generation American of Anglo-Irish ancestry, had named me after a famous British ballerina, Moira Shearer. My mom had studied ballet as a child, like many little girls, and harbored a fantasy that one of her children would become a professional dancer. She took me to my older sister’s ballet teacher when I was five. The instructor asked me to point my foot. She immediately told my mom I didn’t have the high arch required to dance ‘en pointe’, thus dissuaded her from encouraging me to pursue a dance career. On the way home, staring at my flat feet sticking out in front of me in scuffed saddle shoes in the back seat of our Studebaker, I decided to become an artist. I’d enjoyed drawing as far back as I could remember.

Christa: Can you tell us a bit of the way you work on your art?

Moira: I often work from photos I’ve taken, or friends have shot for me (sometimes of their pets). I study historic art references on the internet. I’ve developed an extensive library of books and periodicals that also feed my work.

I work in layers on sketch paper, such as tracing paper, or on Duralar (a matte surface, translucent drafting film). I compose my work on a few levels. The layered sketches aren’t transferred onto watercolor paper until I’m satisfied with the overall composition.
Eventually the layered sketch(es), or a high-contrast transparency of it, is taped to the back of watercolor paper and placed on a large light-box to trace the drawing with graphite. Then I remove the sketch, stretch the watercolor paper onto a board and start painting. A large painting can take a couple of weeks to several years, depending on factors including what other project deadlines demand prioritization.

Christa: Do you have a favorite piece of your own artwork and why?

Moira: Yes, I've always liked 'Self-portrait as a Mandrill'. It may be my version of Edvard Munch’s 'The Scream'.

Christa: I love the Western and Asian influences in your art. How would you describe your own style and what or who would have the most influences on your work / style?

Moira: Nineteenth-century Japanese woodblock print artists certainly influenced the development of my style. A Hokusai exhibition at the Walters Art Gallery drew my attention to the genre while I was a college student. Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, Persian and European art also weigh in. I spent much of my childhood in galleries and museums. They became my cathedrals. I used to sit on the floor of the Baltimore Museum of Art, as a child, drawing from Degas, Cassatt and Gauguin. I took morning classes there and my mom was frequently late picking me up, which didn’t bother me. At home I tried to draw geisha based on traditionally coifed and clad Japanese dolls an uncle sent to my sister and me from Japan.

Christa: You’ve had international exhibitions of your work and your work has appeared in Time magazine, the New Yorker and elsewhere, but what was your first break in the art business?

Moira: The Washington Post published a spot illustration when I was nineteen years old. That was encouraging. With that acceptance, anything seemed possible. My dad, though supportive of my artistic interests in childhood, had later suggested that I should train for ‘a real career, perhaps as a dental hygienist, like your cousin Penny’. So I didn’t think I could actually get paid for making art. It was a thrilling revelation.

Christa: Which areas of creating art do you enjoy the most?

Moira: All of them. I enjoy research, planning, execution and refining.

Christa: You’ve accomplished a lot already in your career. Where do you see your art go next? Do you still have a dream assignment?

Moira: While many of them have been intriguing, I’ve cut back on commissioned work recently to focus on images of my own determination for a series of exhibitions around the US and abroad.

Christa: I love the bright and rich colors you use for your work. Can you tell us a bit more about the way you choose the colors for your art?

Moira: There’s no formula. I developed my color sense from looking at art, particularly graphic art, from many cultures. In my Asian-influenced work, I used to be partial to the colors used in woodblock prints from the Edo period. That was the period before Japanese contact with European traders. Over the past few years, though, my range of interests and the colors I appreciate and use in my art has broadened considerably.

Christa: Are there a painting/ illustration out there that you wish you created?

Moira: Too many to mention. Almost anything by Egon Schiele, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Lord Frederick Leighton, William Holman Hunt, Fritz Eichenberg, Edgar Degas, M.C. Escher, Arthur Rackham, Utagawa Kunisada, Katsushika Hokusai, Thomas Woodruff, Lucien Freud, Jean-Leon Gerome, William Kentridge or Albrecht Durer. I could give you a different and equally heartfelt list tomorrow. I spend at least an hour a day looking at art online…it’s so addictive to be able to research any artist or movement, at any time, that I’m finding it difficult to sleep!

Christa: In your work animals are performing human activities, which are often quite funny and sometimes you have to look very closely to see it. Is there something you want to say with the little jokes in your work or is it just for fun?

Moira: Usually there are subliminal messages, in everything from the toys the animals play with to the flowers or other patterns on their kimonos. For example, in Red Mt. Fuji, that ‘tai-guru-ma’ (rolling carp) pattern on the mom’s kimono depicts a traditional pull toy given to children to ward off evil spirits and promote longevity and prosperity.

Christa: You have created a “Heaven & Hell” series, can you tell us some more about those works?

Moira: I’ve traveled to Japan several times over the past three decades, for as long as a couple of months per visit. The heaven and hell work was based on observations of similarities between some Buddhist and Christian beliefs about the afterworld(s). Gatekeeper figures keep order in both doctrines, and in hell, sinners are punished in ways that befit their earthly failings. Catholicism used to offer a waiting area for un-christened babies called ‘limbo’, a belief with parallels in Buddhist sects. The series I painted replaced some of the key figures in hell with creatures from anime and manga, which seemed even scarier, like being doomed to spend eternity in a comedy traffic school.

Christa: How did your personal website/ portfolio help you to promote your art?

Moira: The website attracts a wider crowd than had previously seen my work. It didn’t have great visibility beyond Koplin Del Rio Gallery, the art gallery I show with in Culver City, until my brother-in-law developed and initially hosted my (original) website, about five years ago.

Prints and posters offered on it have broadened my audience to include students and other collectors who may not yet have the means to purchase my original paintings. The ‘jounal’ link has been useful to inform readers about upcoming shows, workshops, conventions, studio sales and other events.

Christa: Are you currently working on something that you can share with us?

Moira: I just finished a painting, but it’s part of a suite I’ll show later. You can see three of the four paintings I completed earlier this fall on my website, ‘Raijin Tiger’, ‘Food Fight’ and ‘Next Exit’. A fourth painting, ‘Ronin Tiger’, will be in the ‘Wild Things’ exhibition (a wildlife conservation benefit auction sponsored by the Canadian group ‘SavebyArt’) in Melbourne, Australia later this month. Other recent work will be in Aqua Art Miami in December, shown by Kirsten Anderson of Roq La Rue Gallery, and in a group show about endangered species at Santa Monica College in February and March of 2008.

Christa: Besides 2DV, which other graphic sites do you visit regularly?

Moira: ArtDorks, Beautiful Decay, BoingBoing, Communication Arts, Drawn, and the Obakemono Project are a few.

Christa: Is their something you can't work without?

Moira: Tea (green or black) and my dog are part of the formula.

Christa: What do you do when you’re not working or creating something?

Moira: I like to attend art exhibitions in Los Angeles and Orange County on the weekends and usually visit the farmers market on Sundays. My husband and I like to hike and to drive to the Joshua Tree area (the high desert a couple of hours east of Los Angeles) a few times a year for a better view of astronomical sights. Our dog, a large mixed breed, is fascinated by coyotes out there…he also looks like one. Not sure if it would be a ‘meet ‘n greet’ or a ‘meat ‘n eat’, so I keep him on leash. I also enjoy perusing flea markets, estate sales, antique shops and used bookstores. Yesterday a friend and I visited ‘Acres of Books’, a vintage bookstore and favorite haunt of ours that’s graced Long Beach since 1934.

Christa: Thanks for your time and the interview Moira!