Hannah Jensen‘s beautiful smile jumped out at me from the TV a few months ago when she was being featured on the One News “Good Sorts” segment. As they profiled her work, teaching art to children at Aucklands Starship Hospital, I couldn’t ignore the ringing bell in my head – her name was so familiar?! I combined forces with my best friend Google and quickly realised that I had eartagged her to blog years ago because her work is AMAZING!!
Within 10 minutes I’d whipped her an email and just a few weeks later I found myself in her lightfilled studio listening to her incredible story of determination and dedication.
Grab a cup of tea and enjoy this one….
Hannah Jensen was originally born in England but from the age of two she grew up in Whangerai then Auckland. As a super creative child she moved into her teens and followed her passion with gusto, taking on three practical arts subjects in her final year of school resulting in three scholarships! AUT and a major in printmaking beckoned and she threw herself into a 3 year Bachelor of Art and Design . For most young people straight out of school this would have been enough, however Hannah cultivated (and continues to!) an impressive determination which included paying for her education herself. Working since she was 15 years old she had saved $15 000 to get her Uni days off to a good start but kept this up by maintaining work throughout, combining with fierce, self governed 60+ hours per week at school. She’s a machine….
A major fan of trial and error, it was during her 2nd year of Uni that she discovered her “white on white” carving method which has become a signature of much of her detailed work. She put her technique to the test with her first solo show at Auckland cafe; Santos and promptly sold her first carving that day.
With her determination still running hot she decided to take the last three months off work, move back home and go full time on her final year’s project. With her sights set on graduating with an A+ she produced work so large that it couldn’t even fit in a van! Not sure quite what to do with it all she called art rental company; Art Associates who came to view it then gladly took it off her hands – a continuing relationship that sees them with 25 pieces on rotation to this day!
Unsurprisingly Hannah then hit a wall and needed a break. She had just turned 21 years old, graduated from Uni and bucking all normal outcomes had a healthy $11 000 in the bank ! She took off to Africa to spend time with her father at the game reserve he owned where she produced 16 carvings and totally redecorated his lodge. A kind of holiday you might say…?? Art Associates went on to sell all of her large scale work so she latched onto travelling with a vengeance, and went on to explore more than 25 countries.
In 2006 she returned home super inspired and refreshed with the decision made to set up a studio and attempt being a full time artist. Initially bouyed by the sales she made the year before, it wasn’t long until she realised that at this point, her idea wasn’t quite sustainable. So she promptly got herself a job at popular Auckland restaurant; Prego where she stayed for 4 years.
Over the next year she acheived her ambition of having a solo exhibition. Hosted at Disrupt Gallery she created work inspired by local graffiti artists. There was a huge turn out, great response…and not a single piece sold. It was a double edged sword but she realised that her aesthetic and ideas were where her previous success came from and so she went back to continue developing that. She was loaned a shed in Kumeu and equipped with 420 litres of paint and 35 boards she once again put in the hard yards to get herself back on track!
In November 2006 Hannah held another show at Santos with carved work based on old postage stamps. This time they all sold out on the first day but in three weeks she received 40 commisions, in three months there were 80 and over three years 150+ stamp works were created! Drowning in commissions she sought some creative reprieve by entering the 2010 World of Wearable Arts Awards then spent 8 weeks carving an ENORMOUS work to enter into the Wallace Art Awards. Neither bought her wins but both great satisfaction and with the sale of the latter work she felt ready to work toward another show this time with personal themes.
A relationship break up at the end of 2010 had her ready for some soul searching. She packed up her bags to visit her London based brother then went on to realise a long held dream to work with disadvantaged children. Hannah spent three weeks in a Romanian children’s hospital where she took care of unwell orphans and in between them napping painted relentlessly with local kids to create murals on as many bare walls as possible!
On her return she finally realised the security her art and resulting commissions now offered her and she was able to let go of her job. She then started working on large scale pieces inspired by family for her solo show which was held at Saatchi and Saatchi gallery. She had wanted to wow people and the 500 who attended her opening were suitabley wowed!
In late 2012 Hannah moved to the new studio and home you see here. She has continued her volunteer work with children by teaching the art class at Starship Childrens Hospital once a week. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who had spotted her on the news….while I was there she received an enormous delivery of free art supplies to use with her kids from Staedtler!
Hannah Jensen is reallllly busy. There is no doubt about it! But instead of leaving our lengthy afternoon of chatting exhausted at her story – I felt insanely revived and reassured in the knowledge that you don’t need to wait for good things to happen…. you just need to work damn hard to create them yourself.
Hannah would be up there as one of the most creative people I have met locally in Auckland, but she is also one of the most commercially savvy. She has accepted that to create her art she needs an income to support that – so she considers how to offer her work at various price points and themes that people respond to and covet. She softly and gracefully reconciles this with her personal aesthetic and the result is beautiful!
She also poses a great case for practicing yoga!!!All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM HANNAH:
Among things like a quality work ethic and an appreciation of the realities of a creative in the commercial world …. a big genuine smile sure does wonders to your day and the people around you!