Storytelling is an integral part of Rowena Hannan’s work as a ceramicist and teacher for the past 25 years. “Being brought up as a Catholic my childhood was full of stories about saints, these often gory, bizarre tales have always fascinated me,” she says. “My youngest child studied classics both at school and at uni, and we would spend many an hour discussing Greek mythology. The combination of these two types of folklore have been a great inspiration in my work for a long time now.” Rowena lives in Melbourne and studied ceramic design at Monash Caulfield. She says when she applied to study sculpture they sent her straight to the ceramic department as she had been using clay as her medium. “Recognition from people you respect always gives you confidence in your work, however, like everyone there are moments of self doubt,” Rowena says. “I think you know you are on the right path when you feel that your work touches people on an aesthetic or emotional level.” She is exhibiting at Beth Hulme Gallery until 31 October.

Which five words best describe you? Social, passionate, creative, enquiring, adventurous.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I finished my BA in Ceramic Design in the 80s then shared a studio in the old port Melbourne gasworks before it was done up, with another friend. We bartered for the rent by teaching life drawing, flat glass to the locals in the area. Then I went back to college to do my Dip Ed and started teaching and continued to submit ceramic works for mainly group exhibitions. I then co-founded a studio group called Waterside Art Workers - this group operated from an old boat builders building on the Maribyrnong River in Footscray. While the occupants changed many times over the years I worked from this space for 20 years. Since then I have built a studio at home and have worked on my most recent solo exhibitions. 

What’s your proudest career achievement? Probably when I have been at the unveiling of public works I have produced and seeing people reactions to them.

What’s been your best decision? My best relatively recent decision in relation to my career was to answer an application to present a paper at a Ceramic Symposium in China a few years ago. I didn’t expect to be accepted and when I was, I was pretty terrified and asked myself, “What the hell am I doing?” Anyway, I took the risk and met the most amazing people from all over the world who work in ceramics. It really opened up my own world and the flow-on effect has been amazing. It made me aware of so many opportunities out there.

Who inspires you? So many people - not always famous people, sometimes people you meet who create beautiful and powerful works in adverse circumstances.

What are you passionate about? Storytelling. This come through in my art work continuously. A few years ago I produced a series of works that were sculptures of shoes made from porcelain. Each pair of shoes was based on a fictitious love letter between various famous lovers throughout history. Each sole was embossed with the beginning and end of letters - it was up to the viewer to fill in the narrative. I loved researching these stories and playing with ways to symbolically represent the connection between people that I had never met. This love of storytelling has evolved into my current work, which has returned to figurative, which is far more typical of my work. This passion for storytelling permeates into my teaching, as I feel strongly that a good teacher must be a great storyteller.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I know it’s a bit cliche for a female artist, but I would have loved to have met Frida Kahlo. This goes back to what inspires me. I admire Kahlo for not only her artwork but for the way she embraced life with so much energy and passion despite the hindrance of her physical disabilities. I love the flamboyance of her dress and her defiant nature. She was a woman who took risks. A great role model to young women today. I am also fascinated by the macabre nature of Mexican culture and its connection with Catholicism. Ritual has always fascinated me.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? I want to do an art residency overseas somewhere for a few months. This will give me an opportunity to expand myself creatively, have a period to completely absorb myself in my work without day-to-day distractions, and most importantly, have the opportunity to work amongst other artists within another culture.

What are you reading? Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

images courtesy of rowena hannan