Artist Hana Shannon: I find comfort in the creative process

Hana Shannon, photo: archive of Hana Shannon

Painter Hana Shannon, whose works include the series Czechs Silhouettes, received classical training in Prague before settling in New York. With the Big Apple currently severely affected by the coronavirus crisis, she discusses her latest projects – and being personally affected by Covid-19 – in this interview from the Czech Center New York series Artists That Never Give Up in the City That Never Sleeps.

Hana Shannon, photo: archive of Hana Shannon
How long have you lived in New York? How has New York influenced your work, how has it inspired you?

“I first came to New York about 20 years ago and I remember exactly the moment I got out of the plane at JFK.

“It was hot, humid, crowded, and dirty, but the energy was so good and intense, I fell in love with it.

“That energy always provided great inspiration and drive for me.”

What are you currently working on? What are your upcoming projects?

“I have two projects going on: color oil paintings and black and white silhouettes.

“Right now I’m experimenting with a bigger format. I’m working on a giant silhouette of Václav Havel; oil on canvas.

“The first silhouettes were only 5” x 5” (13 x 13 cm) and this one is 50” x 50” (130 x 130 cm), which is a huge difference.

“It’s still a work in progress and I’m excited to see where it takes me.

You create portraits, mostly depictions of your loved ones, in which colour leads to an emotional experience. Recently you have left colour behind, and in the series Nasty Women and Czech Silhouettes you paint black silhouettes of celebrities and political figures on wood. Can you tell us about this shift and your interest in this new topic?

“I never ‘left colour behind’ but just took a break when I didn’t have a studio space and was busy with my family.

“I have three children close in age and it was very intense, especially when they were little.

“That’s why I started the black and white silhouettes – so that I could work at home on something smaller and non-toxic.

“It soon turned into my new interest and challenge in the field of portrait.

“Again, first I focused on friends and family, and then I started to paint famous people who were interesting to me.

“My kids are bigger now and I couldn’t be happier to get back into the studio again.

“I found a great studio space over a year ago and returned to painting in colour.

“I keep working on the silhouettes simultaneously. It’s great to mix it up to keep a fresh point of view.”

The current coronavirus situation has affected the whole art world. Has it impacted you personally or professionally?

“Yes, this affects everybody. You can’t escape it.

“It’s really not easy to focus on art at this time. The atmosphere around is just so heavy.

“I managed to get to my studio a few times but I’m not very productive. I don’t know how much longer my studio building will remain open.

“At least I got to finish a silhouette of Milan Kundera, for the Famous Czechs series, and I’m happy for that.

“The coronavirus affected me right from the beginning because I have friends and family members who have gotten ill with the virus.

Hana Shannon born in the Czech Republic and studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. After graduating with a Master’s degree in Fine Art, she moved to the US to pursue her art career. Her main focus is painting and she creates extraordinary portraits, such as the series Czech Silhouettes. Her work been shown nationally and internationally, including at the Czech National Gallery and the Czech Center New York as part of the exhibitions Melting the Pot (2009) and The New Bohemia - Reflect What You Are (2019).

“I’m currently at home with my family practicing social distancing along with all other New Yorkers.

“I don't know what’s going to happen and I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Many people find comfort and broader perspectives in art. As an artist, what helps you find balance and support in times of uncertainty? Do you have any encouraging thoughts to share?

“Personally, I find comfort in the creative process.

“The process of painting, the time of focus, stillness and peace – I find all that in my studio.

“I’m very happy and treasure the time I get to spend there.

“It grounds me and fulfills me and I feel I can be a better person thanks to that, more present for other people.

“I also practice the Wim Hof method, which is a combination of a special breath technique and exposure to cold and I find these very helpful.

“I call it a ‘more physical’ form of meditation.

“I find it easier than classic meditation, where I have trouble staying still, both in my mind and body.”