How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
Mark and I have been creating a body of work for over a year-long before the pandemic or recent period of heightened civil unrest—and I think we have found that the original goals of the work are still very much compatible with the world in which we now find ourselves, possibly even more so. I think we, like a lot of artists, have been abruptly faced with a moment of soul-searching, in which we have to question the relevance of our current practice in a time that is suddenly so very different, and in which a new reality or way of working might be necessary.
Fortunately, we tend to agree that the art that we need to be making in this moment is in fact the art that we’ve been making all along, and our collaboration has become a much-needed sounding board.
Our practice as artists, separately and together, has really always been about tying the traditional crafts of drawing, painting, and sculpting—and their obsessive, time-consuming processes—to a contemporary culture that is changing rapidly, digesting information differently, and exploring the notion of identity more fluidly.
I think we repeatedly return to subjects like isolation, identity, the American Dream, and of course, social media. These are ideas that interact with the centuries-old visual crafts of drawing and sculpting in ways that are crude, uncanny, and surreal. We both seem to enjoy those strange interactions, and that’s why our work has intertwined. I think our current moment, as a society, only serves to underscore the themes we have been exploring… especially as people spend more time in isolation, and their screen time has increased significantly.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
We continue to work on the same project, and while it is difficult not to see elements of 2020 in our in-progress work, I think we have tried to stay the course and let the project develop organically without trying to push it too hard toward references to current events.
In some ways our collaborative process is the same: we spend most of our time in the natural isolation of our studios, then trade portions of the project or come together for critiques and important decisions. Working on a collaboration, especially, seems counterintuitive right now, and the two of us have different levels of engagement at different times.
On the positive side, social distancing has forced me to tap even deeper into my natural reliance on routine, forcing me to portion out time each day, or each week, for studio practice, acknowledging that it is for my own sanity as much as for the “greater good” of the collaboration. Mark approaches work in phases of engagement rather than a steady routine, and I think our different approaches are totally compatible.
At the same time though, the diminished feedback and exposure to an artists’ community can create a kind of tunnel vision that is a particular challenge—made even more so by the knowledge that this doesn’t seem to be a great time for artists to try to show their work. That lack of a tangible goal for creating artwork can make it easy to be complacent.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
As artists, I think we have an opportunity here to stop and think critically about why we are doing any of this. Before lockdown the practice was easier to take for granted; we make art because it’s what we do, and we have various shows, deadlines, etc. around the corner. We are in a moment where we can reset and consider what is really important not just in our practice but in our lives, and hopefully to remind ourselves that the two should be linked.
Art tends to be a barometer of society, and vice versa. This is a pretty unique time; it seems to be the right moment for really unique art. We would advise any artist to reset their expectations and try to do something unexpected or unusual.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
I guess we all have to adapt in some way to the tools we have at our disposal. Community seems to be shifting to virtual realms like online chat platforms, etc. and I think we each try to work within that to create community where we can. As teachers Mark and I have to adapt and go where our students are. We are working on ways to create and share demos with students and friends online, and hopefully we will see increasingly creative solutions to this.
I think we can all really enjoy and appreciate the part nature is playing in creating community and providing a platform for artmaking. It’s a great time to socialize outside, spend time in nature, and push students toward public art. It’s an interesting moment in that we are finding creative ways to be creative.
More about The Hunt
The Hunt is a collaborative multimedia project between artists Mark Hanavan and Paul Loehle. The finished installation will be comprised of seven pieces which can stand independently but will function optimally when viewed as a collection. The complete work is inspired by the Unicorn Tapestries (1495-1505), permanently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mark and Paul formed a natural partnership as a result of creating work with intertwining processes and subject matter—most of which focuses on the traditionally drawn figure combined with contemporary context. As with their previous works, this new project poses questions of our individual interactions and relationships with technology and social media; specifically, how these interactions manifest themselves in our physical and mental realities.
In the Middle Ages, tapestries were among the highest forms of art, largely for the extensive amount of labor that went into each piece, and also for the amount of time that was commonly spent viewing and discussing them—often a social event. The Hunt pays homage to this history by utilizing traditional artmaking practices of oil painting, sculpting and casting, and building frames by hand, culminating in a process that articulates the weight of the hours spent on its creation. Ultimately while the oil paintings, ornate frames, and sculptures may evoke a sense of the familiar, the addition of bizarre and kitsch elements such as pixels, amorphous flesh forms, unicorn hats, and low-tech elements of string and glitter may at times feel off putting and at odds with one another, causing the work to exist in an uncanny valley that the viewer is compelled to explore with caution and skepticism.
Mark Hanavan is a native Cincinnati artist who resides in Middletown, Ohio, with his wife and three children. Mark earned his MFA in Painting from The Department of Design, Art, Architecture and Urban Planning at The University of Cincinnati. Currently, he is an Assistant Adjunct Professor, who teaches art and design for The University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash and Miami University, Middletown. Mark has also worked on multiple public mural projects, including “The Lefthander for Life,” a mural in Hamilton, Ohio, honoring the great baseball player, sports announcer and philanthropist, Joe Nuxhall. He was a teaching artist on Artworks mural celebrating the Cincinnati YWCA, located on the side of the Manely and Burke law firm in downtown Cincinnati. Mark is continually developing his own personal body of work and shows that work in local and regional galleries and venues. Most recently, Mark has been collaborating with longtime friend and fellow artist, Paul Loehle, on a multi- media installation titled “The Hunt”. As with their previous works, this new project poses questions of our individual interactions and relationships with technology and social media; specifically, how these interactions manifest themselves in our physical and mental realities.
Mark’s website is currently being updated to reflect this new collaborative work. Some process images of the project may be viewed at https://www.instagram.com/hanavanmdrawing/.
Paul Loehle is a native of the Cincinnati area; he received his MFA in Painting from the University of Cincinnati in 2009 and his MA – Art Education in 2011. Loehle’s work has always been heavily influenced by painterly realism and the human figure, and his current body of work explores the relationship of traditional media and methods to the ephemeral worlds of amateur digital photography and social networking phenomena like Facebook. His work has been shown in such venues around the Cincinnati area as Manifest Creative Research and Drawing Center, Bromwell’s Gallery, The Carnegie, and the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton. Additionally, Loehle’s work was displayed in the Contemporary Realism Biennial at the Ft. Wayne Museum of Art (2010). Loehle has taught Life Drawing at UC as a graduate student and foundations drawing at Miami University, Oxford as an adjunct instructor. He has also taught painting at Chatfield College and foundations courses at The Art Institute of Ohio – Cincinnati. He has worked with Artworks Cincinnati leading mural projects for the past 8 Summers, and he currently teaches Art at Hamilton High School.
You can find out more about his work at: https://www.paulloehle.com