Press / Long Beach Post

Long Beach Post - Moira Hahn: Memories and Observations
by Sander Wolff

Moira Hahn has been exhibiting her work throughout the United States and in Japan for two decades. Her work is an intoxicating blend of traditional Asian watercolor techniques full of stunning detail and color and a whimsical array of creatures, often in decidedly Western contexts. This juxtaposition can be arresting and, at times, hilarious.

Sander: How did the idea of applying traditional Asian painting techniques to modern, Western subjects coalesce for you?

Moira: I grew up surrounded by Asian art and by European interpretations of Asian and Middle-Eastern art. My dad served in China during World War II. He brought back treasured scrolls, cloisonné, jade and other examples of classic Chinese art. His close friend (and later my sister’s godfather) was stationed in post-war Japan from where he sent us Japanese art and folk toys throughout our childhood. My parents also owned a 1920s Austrian bronze lamp of a Bedouin carpet merchant. I probably rubbed half the paint off of its tiger skin rug and other exotic, precision-cast details in my admiration as a child. As a result of such early indoctrination, I visited local museums to view works by artists including Katsushika Hokusai and the French Orientalist, Jean Leon Gerome.

After moving from the East Coast to California for college, I worked as a studio assistant for Japanese-American artist Masami Teraoka, for five years. At the time, Teraoka was best known for combining aspects of American popular culture such as McDonald’s hamburgers (invading Japan) with elements of traditional Japanese graphic art. The Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo made similarly themed work in Tokyo and was another beacon. However, neither artist focused primarily on turning traditional human actors into animals. My inspiration for populating my art with anthropomorphic creatures came from childhood memories of Saturday morning cartoons, Aesop’s Fables, fairy tales and from works by my favorite mid-19th century Japanese artist, Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Sander: What appeals to you as a subject?

Moira: I’ve always had a keen interest in animals and their behavior. Some of my paintings were fueled by backyard observation of interactions between wild parrots (and other fowl) and neighborhood cats. The characters change with time. This past week, a team of young, acrobatic squirrels appeared, racing along telephone lines above a podocarpus hedge. I’m also intrigued by Japanese demons, and have recently embarked on a series depicting a night parade of a hundred demons from Japanese literature and folklore

Sander: Where do you typically sell your work?

Moira: I show with Koplin Del Rio Gallery in Culver City and occasionally in exhibitions at other venues, recently including the Pacific Asia Museum (2009), the Long Beach Museum of Art (2010), and the Portsmouth Museum in New Hampshire (2011). I’ll be officially retired from a full-time job teaching art at a college in June, and am looking forward to more time to create. Currently working toward a third solo or two-artist exhibition with Koplin Del Rio gallery in late 2012.

Sander: What value does participating in the Studio Tour have for you?

Moira: The tour permits me to show my work to neighbors and friends and see what local artist are up to. Artists tend to be over-scheduled. One can live within a close range and yet rarely find the time to get together and share recent work; this gives us a reason, and schedule, to do so.

Sander: Is there something about Long Beach that helps to sustain and/or challenge your life as an artist?

Moira: This is a great city for creative people, with as close to a small-town atmosphere as it may be possible to find in a city of almost half-a-million inhabitants. I lived all over Los Angeles and Orange Counties prior to moving to Long Beach in 2001. The Long Beach Museum of Art supports local artists. The recently restored, Art Deco style Art Theatre will consider requests for films and recently showed an independently made animated film I was interested in.

Long Beach has wonderful restaurants and provides a relatively relaxed pace and supportive atmosphere for artists, musicians, bicyclists and dog owners, yet is close to the many world-class museums and cultural attractions Los Angeles has to offer. We can visit a different park, marina, hiking trail or beach within a 10-mile radius every day of the week. Thanks to a growing system of bike lanes, the Long Beach Airport and the Blue Line, we often leave our car at home.