It’s All in the Making | Tsering Hannaford

Date: 19 Mar 2018

It’s both easy and hard to believe that Tsering Hannaford sees herself as someone at the very beginning of her career. Not too many early career painters can claim being a finalist in the Archibald Prize for three consecutive years, nor that they studied at internationally renowned schools in France and New York. Although she started painting fulltime in 2012, Tsering’s impressive resume hints at someone who has been working in the field far longer. But from listening to her speak about her craft with urgency and calm in equal measures, it’s obvious that painting is something she intends to make a lifelong study of.

“I’m just at the beginning but that’s what’s so exciting about it. In terms of my practice, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s such a wealth of knowledge and history in my field that I’m still yet to uncover. It’s such a rewarding process,” she says.

Hannaford’s practice consists mostly of studio-based portraiture and still life work, sometimes venturing into landscapes. All of these she prefers to paint from life, insisting that the sometimes laborious process enables her to capture a magical quality that working from photographs does not. She is enamoured with details: light falling on a tabletop or the sculptural elegance of a flower. Her work often focuses on humdrum objects and everyday situations. She doesn’t distort reality, she enhances it.  

“My favourite thing about painting from life is the experience. The process is so engaging. If I’m doing a nighttime painting I’ll paint at night and the atmosphere will really be present in the artwork I’m creating. It’s still, it’s quiet, it’s dramatic. And if I’m painting in the day it’s bright and I can see the colour really clearly,” she says.

This consideration is apparent in Hannaford’s portraiture, which captures not only the physical features of an individual but also something unseen. Over the course of multiple sittings she gradually gets to know her subjects, and as they let their guard down she becomes more informed about how to represent them. This is apparent in her 2014 portrait of Dr. Susan Carland, a piece that conveys the subject’s public image and strength while still retaining a strange sense of intimacy.

“Painting from life is often seen as more difficult. I like it because it’s different, I like the challenge. It’s been extremely fulfilling being able to connect with that small, dedicated community who really value painting from life.”

This sense of community has been enhanced by travel. Despite being a self-proclaimed introvert who is happiest holed away in her studio for hours at a time, she believes wholeheartedly in the value of stepping outside of your everyday from time to time in order to learn, grow artistically and see the world with fresh eyes. In 2015 an Arts SA Individual Development Grant enabled her to travel to New York and study at two schools that are highly regarded in the realist community: The Art Students League of New York and Grand Central Atelier. Here, she dedicated herself to honing her skills in the traditional methods integral to any realist practice. Then in 2017 she was awarded the Smith Fellowship to study at Studio Escalier in Argenton Château, France.

“That first trip that I took really opened my eyes to what was possible. I was surrounded by really dedicated artists of all ages really just pushing for this very high standard of work and working from life as well, which is something that is really important to me.”

Since arriving home her focus has been not only on her practice, but also on giving back to the creative community and sharing what she’s learned. In 2017 she was an Artist in Residence at Loreto College where she spent a term teaching year 11 students her approach to portraiture. From 5-7 May 2018 she will be teaching a three day course on painting from life at The Art Academy, giving her students a comprehensive insight into her artistic process and the fundamentals of classical portraiture. Later this year, she will also be teaching a plein air painting workshop for educators at the Art Gallery of South Australia, drawing inspiration from the Colours of Impressionism exhibition from the Musee d'Orsay and her experiences in France.

When asked what she’s currently inspired by, the answer is easy. The common thread of Hannaford’s practice continues to be the small, sometimes unnoticed details of everyday life.

“I feel so lucky to have the occupation that I do because it allows me to celebrate the magic in everything. It really teaches you to value life in a way. We often think we need more, we don’t have enough, but when you’re an artist and you can just pay attention to something so simple it flows over to your philosophy of life. It’s about appreciating what you’ve got and celebrating that too.”

View Tsering Hannaford’s full profile.

Image (banner): Winter Magnolia, 2016, Oil on board, 45 x 60cm. Image courtesy of the artist. Images (top to bottom): Self portrait with magnolia, 2016, Oil on board, 85cm x 79cm. Image courtesy of the artist; Dr. Susan Carland, 2014, Oil on Belgian linen, 85cm x 62cm. Image courtesy of the artist; View of the Village, 2017, Oil on panel,15 x 20cm. Image courtesy of the artist; Blue Door, 2017, Oil on panel,15 x 20cm. Image courtesy of the artist.