Artist Spotlight: Hanne Peeraer

Photo with works at Stock Up on Air exhibition, Hanne Peeraer

Hi Hanne! Would you mind introducing yourself?

Hi! I’m Hanne Peeraer, a 23-year old visual artist from Belgium, who grew up in Italy and is currently living, working and studying in London.

Tell us about your beginnings as an artist: when did you realize you were (or wanted to become) one?

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment. It feels more like a big blur; I always loved creating, and at some point or another I just decided this was what felt most true to me. I went to a European School where I could largely assemble my own class schedule, and I ended up with a strange blend of physics, philosophy, history and German (I dropped art in exchange for physics).

There was an artist, Vera Portatadino, who lived in the village next to mine, and I took extracurricular art classes with her. I ended up being her assistant and she helped me prepare my application for an art foundation programme at UAL (sadly, I got declined!). So I did one year of Painting at Luca School of Art in Ghent, Belgium, but ended up at UAL anyway a year after; I got my BA(Hons) in Fine Art/Painting from Wimbledon College of Arts in 2020. Now I’m in my first year of an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art. Even now, I often hesitate to call myself an artist because I’m still studying — I instinctively go for “art student” instead.

Home studio shot of Ears, ink, pencil and marker on plaster, 15 x 22 cm, 2021 copy

When it comes to your work and creative process: how do you get inspired?

The input for my work ranges from slowly digested material such as philosophy and elements of physics (though only insofar as I can understand it), to things I see in my daily life — a diagram in a book (I love diagrams), a facial expression, a leaf, a pool of water, a colour. Mostly though, it comes from intuition. The things that inspire me are those that reflect or flow in continuity with my inner landscape.

Most of the seeds for my artwork get planted in my sketchbooks. Unlike most sketchbooks though, I treat them carefully and respectfully. I make them by hand, choosing the paper individually and stitching it together. They are made from translucent paper, allowing each drawing to blend simultaneously with its ancestor and its successor. Maybe that’s why I end up considering them to be works in themselves. The book becomes almost like part of my hand, and whatever I am doing on any given day, my sketchbook invariably makes recurring appearances. The drawings bleed into each other like my thoughts bleed into past, present and future throughout the day. It becomes an encyclopaedia of imagery that I use to build my practice. When I then sit down in the studio (or, as I have been for the past year or so, at home), the process begins very slowly, by leafing through one of the books. Well, that is if I don’t already have an idea for a piece that came to me randomly as I stepped on the train or something, in which case I grab the materials and start working asap. The working process itself is then usually very quick; in most cases, it takes less than a couple of hours to complete a piece from start to finish. Then I want to leave it behind. I only very rarely spend multiple days on one piece, and even when I do I think about it in a fragmented way, as if it is made up from multiple short bursts.

I always think that even if I hadn’t chosen to pursue a career as an artist, I would have continued to fill every gap of my day with drawing anyway. It’s not so much a need as it is a given; it’s just what I do.

Studio shot with Dormeuse (Persephone), pencil on tracing paper, 137 x 94 cm, 2021, Hanne Peeraer

We know it is a tough question — but how do you identify as an artist?

Right now, I’m in the middle of an MA in Painting at the RCA. But I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in almost two years. Instead, I think about my practice in the way a tutor of mine, Zoë Mendelson, used to talk about it; “painting in the expanded field”. I mostly draw with coloured pencils and ink, and infuse or layer the work in a multitude of different materials. But whatever I do, the image somehow comes to the surface and gets communicated to the viewer. It’s this layering and obfuscation that has been a recurring motif from the start; the drawing playing a game of illusionary hide and seek with its observer.

I am fascinated by magic and science, and the area that exists in-between them — that is, if you don’t already consider them to be the same thing. To me, they are closely related to art because they consider questions and answers on the same level, though each in their own way. I think humans exist in a great network that lies somewhere in-between and inside of magic and science. Art is my way to make sense of this network, and I suppose that’s what my work is about. Which is confusing, I know — because it’s like I’m saying my art is about art itself, which I despise because it makes me sound very arrogant. Usually I prefer not to put descriptive words on my practice — precisely because it’s about the things that are not words. I think people nowadays need to hear some more things that aren’t words. When someone engages with my work, I want them to be reminded of things that are inexplicable, about their own intuition and perception, and of how freeing it can be not to have all the answers. I’ve recently been working on a series that incorporates imagery of sleeping, because I think it instils that same sense of quietude, imagination and magic.

Those are always the works that I’m proudest of; the ones that I can see resonate with people’s minds, but also their gut. That’s why the sketchbooks are still the works that feel the most resolved to me. I love seeing someone engage with them and slowly leaf through the translucent pages, head bent down, repeatedly manipulating the visibility and transparency of each drawing by putting more or less pressure on the paper. I feel satisfied at the fact that it can make them stand still. Ultimately, I want that to be the way in which my work reaches its audience — not necessarily through big gallery openings and headlines, but rather hand to hand. A person passing on one of my books, drawings or sculptures to a friend, saying look how nice this thought journey you can enter into. I’d love to find a way to print and reproduce the books, but it’s just so hard to do that with the different types of transparent paper I use.

Photo with Dormeuse (Persephone), pencil on tracing paper, 137 x 94 cm, 2021, Hanne Peeraer

Who are the creators you look up to?

A tonne of inspiration comes from my peers. Not only the artists I work alongside, but also my friends from other disciplines. In general, a surprising amount of the research I’ve gathered comes from fields that lie outside of the art world: I go crazy for things like geometry (sacred and mathematical alike), light refraction and optics, philosophy of science, human ecology, the occult, and geology. I also have a particular passion for movement and mind-body practices: yoga is an important part of my life and feeds my practice endlessly. Lastly, I have to mention the Ghibli films. I can rewatch all of them infinite times and find new magical elements to wonder about at every viewing.

That all being said, there are several names that inevitably come to mind when I’m asked about my inspiration. They are people like Kiki Smith, Markus Vater, Matthew Ritchie, Eija Liisa-Ahtila, Andreas Siqueland, Piet Oudolf, Michaël Borremans, Kaye Donachie, Lindsey Bull, Bill Viola, Ithell Colquhoun, Leonora Carrington, Hilma Af Klint and of course the artist who first truly introduced me to painting; Vera Portatadino.

Dormeuse (Persephone), pencil on tracing paper, 137 x 94 cm, 2021, Hanne Peeraer

Being an emerging artists in the industry — what was your experience like so far?

I do sometimes get impostor syndrome when thinking of myself in the art world. Like I mentioned, I am not particularly attracted to the idea of having huge solo shows and not even necessarily to living off my work full time. My practice often feels more like a side effect of my daily life rather than its focal point. When I try to force it to be something other than that, I freeze. I only learn afterwards why I made any particular piece of body of work, as if it’s my hand doing it for me. I don’t like spending every waking hour creating or pondering art, I don’t forget to go to sleep when I’m drawing, I can never spend more than an hour at a gallery before being overstimulated, I need a rigid routine of early nights and quiet mornings, and I listen to podcasts about shoulder anatomy or stand-up comedy while drawing. Consequentially, there have been occasions where I felt like I’ve missed out; where most of my peers relish in staying up for hours chatting about their work and making connections, I can’t help but tap out at 9pm when all my brain is telling me to do is sleep.

However, it seems to have worked out until now. And every artist has their own unique creation process. So I just keep doing what I’m doing. Luckily, people still seem to find ethereality and emotion in my work, rather than shoulder anatomy or stand-up comedy. The response I remember most clearly came from a student on my course, who said that my work reminded her of a “constant unconscious space”. Not only did that make me feel grateful and honoured, it also reminded me that everything I do is to feed my own unconscious space, and if I forced it to be any other way, it would probably stop showing through in the work.

Lockdown kitchen Mind Map WIP (detail), mixed media installation, various dimensions, 2021, Hanne Peeraer

2020 was a very…. special (for a lack of better word) year for everyone. How did you handle the lockdown and restrictions? Did it impact your creativity in any way?

At first, it felt strangely enough like a huge relief. It was a break from life, and I was able to fully immerse myself in the rhythms I described above. I had lots of time to be quiet, no social interactions to make me feel anxious, and could live at an extremely regular and consistent pace. Being able to do all that also reminded me of how hugely lucky and privileged I am to be able to have such an experience when so much of the population was undergoing the exact opposite. I could study from home, I didn’t have any care responsibilities, I was able to live in a comfortable flat with a partner who supports me, and my family and loved ones were largely in the same, safe position. So that gave me an enormous wave of gratitude and appreciation for my life. That phase ended up being extremely influential on my practice, because it allowed me to live life on an extreme, and I still keep up habits that I picked up then; I give myself more time, and I know that doing so will benefit my work — rather than the opposite. The quietude and introspection fed my work, and it took on a much slower and more colourful atmosphere. Things are starting to move again now, but I am being careful about regaining the speed.

Constrained to methods that can be used at home, with only a desk space at my disposal, the work inevitably became smaller and more humble. I had to pay attention to the image, couldn’t allow myself to get lost in endless material possibilities. It marked the beginning of my fascination with magic. That was a key piece of the puzzle; the imagined to counterbalance the scientific.

What are the future projects you are looking forward to?

Well… now that things are slowly opening up again, and I have the opportunity to use my university’s studios again, I’ve been scaling up and beginning again. Oh, and I’m currently working on something in collaboration with some architects, an anthropologist and an urbanist — I am beyond excited about it, but that’s all I can say about it for now!

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