Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.
– Maria Robinson, American writer
Abstract painting: The Balancing act
Abstract painting is much more difficult than many people may imagine, according to artist Tana Hakanson. Balance, composition, color, and contrast are as equally important in non-representational art as they are in representational art. “I’m learning to let go of thinking about what I’m doing too much and let the painting process evolve naturally, while at the same time evaluating the piece along the way for all of the elements that make a painting work,” she said. “It’s a balancing act between letting it happen and making it happen.” Artists can plan out the process when working on a representational piece of art, such as a painting of a still life, because they have a preconceived notion of the end product. In abstract painting, however, the work evolves as you go along, according to Tana.
“Each painting seems to takes on a life of its own, so trying to get the materials to do the same thing that they did the day before is futile,” she said. Her best paintings have “seemed to come easily and happen by themselves.” The director of her graduate program’s art department painted while watching television to distract him from the act of painting so his art would just “come out.” While Tana appreciates his theory, she prefers to be more engaged in the moment. “I wouldn’t want to miss anything!” she said. Being in the moment happens away from the canvas, as well. Sometimes she’ll wake up in the middle of the night or be walking outdoors and “get colors in my head.” When those moments come to her, she says, with a big smile, “I get inspired. And that’s the magic of it.”
Art and nature
Not surprisingly, Tana is inspired by nature and glazed pottery, specifically textures that occur through natural processes such as geologic formations and colors in rocks, which make the end product unpredictable and unique. Last year she experimented with paint flowing vertically. This year she is playing with organic shapes, as well as letting paint flow around the canvas, with her only manipulation being the choice of colors and size of the canvas, then working with what comes out of it. With each painting changing as it dries, Tana says she never knows what the outcome will be. “I would like to think that my paintings are like nature at work and I’m participating in the play of nature,” she said.
Tana is fascinated by quantum physics, fractals, and how nature creates “incredible, beautiful things.” She’s also interested in chaos theory and how nature is predictable in its unpredictability. “Perhaps since we are nature ourselves, we are drawn to nature’s aesthetic, which, though it has patterns, also always has something different thrown in which creates vibrancy,” she said. The works of artists who inspire her share similar themes. San Francisco artist Saundra MacPherson, whose work of layers upon layers of texture is informed by geology, invited Tana to her studio six years ago when Tana saw her work online and wrote her a letter of appreciation. She credits MacPherson with encouraging her to keep going and keep experimenting with her art. Local artist Stephen Bruce, who works with acid on metal, which creates forms via natural processes, is another source of inspiration.
Doing what you love: Tana as inspiration
A philosophical person at heart, Tana has experienced “a lot of existential angst” in her 46 years. Finding daily tasks “often dull and boring,” and “modern life to be sometimes disjointed and vapid,” she has always been on a quest to get deeper into the “essence of things,” which is why she was drawn to art early on and why it was inevitable that she returned to painting. “I’m not sure what it all means, but I have learned that life is short,” she said. “If you’re cutting yourself off from the things that you love and that have meaning to you, you’re not helping the world. So do what you love – even if it’s carving out a bit of time for it initially. Make it work somehow, no matter where you are in your life.”
Tana Hakanson will show her new work at this year’s East Bay Open Studio, sponsored by Pro Arts the first two weekends in June (1-2 and 8-9), from 11am to 6pm, at her home at 1633 Mariposa Street, Richmond, CA 94804. You can also see her work at Tana Hakanson Studio. Support the arts! Let Tana know that you read about her work here.
Editor’s note: Part I of Tana Hakanson: The Artist’s Journey Home was published here on Friday, May 24.