An Interview with Hannah Devereux

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Hannah Devereux was born in England in 1988. She studied at University College Falmouth and Byam Shaw School of Art, Central St. Martins. She currently lives and works in London.

Her exquisitely fine drawings are featured in the new volume of our visual art journal, LINTEL.

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1. You produce drawings and photographs. Do you see them as distinct disciplines, or do they converge in some way?

The drawings and photographs run in parallel, I don’t think that one could exist without the other. I often feel in my photographic work that I am aiming to create abstract drawings as I do with pen and ink, and while drawing I am mimicking what is important to me in a photograph; the two strands of the work feed each other.

2. Given the nature of much of your drawings, ‘run in parallel’ seems a very apt phrase. Can you tell us something about how you came to this approach – the laying down of single lines along side each other?

I suppose it came about through feeling a need to pay attention to the fundamental principles of drawing. I became compelled with this manner of working when I understood I could not control the outcome of a piece, even though the process may be seen as rather regimented.

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3. We might expect someone who comes to that realisation to embrace a ‘freer’ mode of working – but your work is unarguably the result of extraordinary self-control. Can you tell us more about why you are drawn to such a highly ordered form of drawing? For instance, do you situate your work within any particular artistic tradition? Are there any points of reference that helped shape your aesthetic?

I am interested in what happens organically when working with a method that doesn’t allow much variation. My aim is that more space and attention is given to that which comes about naturally. The process itself could be seen as a kind of meditation, I don’t feel as though much self-control is required; it is usually a relief to focus on just one simple task, which is probably another element of how the process came about in the first place.

I think it’s difficult to situate your own work amongst an artistic tradition, even if it may seem clear to others. If somebody decided I were a minimalist I wouldn’t argue but similarly I’m not sure I would confidently label myself that way.

My father, Richard Devereux is an artist and I think he taught me to appreciate aesthetic subtlety.

I was living by the sea when I began drawing in this manner, and although I didn’t realise it at the time, that may be what prompted an obsession with the horizon line as a division, and as a tool for abstraction. The relationship between landscape photography and works of total abstraction is of great importance to me.

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4. The way your drawings occupy space seems very important – their positioning and relation to the surrounding white space, and the page edge or border. Rarely does it seem that your drawings are ‘centred’ – they gravitate towards the margins, and create an implicit relationship with ‘absence’. They even sometimes run off the page. Can you offer some insight with respect to ‘placement’ in your work?

I see the work as both the drawn lines and the space they sit within. It may often be that it is the division between the drawing and the space that is most central, like a horizon within a photograph of a landscape. Sometimes I enjoy placing a drawing down at the bottom of a page because I feel it makes it heavier.

The borders of images are really interesting – they are what distinguish a photograph from the landscape that is its subject. I play with borders in my drawings as I do in photography. Lines acting as divisions within the work are important, this applies to the boundaries of an image as well.

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5. Do you know when you begin a drawing how it will be orientated, and do you see any difference in the use of a vertical, as opposed to a horizontal, arrangement of lines?

I make a simple plan before beginning a new drawing, but I don’t know exactly how it will turn out. I’m not sure I can say much about the discrepancy between vertical and horizontal lines, they are like two views of the same plane. It is a quick decision when I plan a drawing, and I just do what feels right.

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6. You characterise the making of your work as a meditative process. Some of the drawings consist of a relatively small number of lines, and others of many more – it could be said that these works are ways of ‘marking time’. Can you elaborate on how you know when a piece is finished?

Some times are more meditative than others, occasionally I listen to the radio or music while working, particularly when I am making bigger drawings. Lots of people immediately interpret them as pieces of time and it is almost like they don’t want to understand a drawing until they know how long it took to make. I usually avoid the question; I want the work to support itself.

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7. Your ‘myvatn’ series of photographs is composed of horizontal landscape layers interrupted by vertical arrangements of fencing – are you seeking landscapes that are in some way reduced to these basic elements?

Not necessarily only horizontal or vertical lines, but basic elements yes. I prefer snow and ice-clad landscapes for that reason; it is like having a blank sheet of paper to draw on. I want to minimise the visual elements of a place to the point of abstraction.

8. I’m not sure if you’re aware of Alistair Rider’s & Thomas A Clark’s blog ‘The Single Road’ (http://thesingleroad.blogspot.co.uk)? It features the work of artists who have ‘taken the decision to repeat a single practice, or to make one ongoing piece, throughout their working lives’. It seems to me an incredibly brave act, to eschew the prospective narrative of ‘artistic development’. Moreover, it seems both modest and self-assured, as it suggests that the work itself – in its first instance – is fully articulated, and that repetition magnifies, rather than diminishes it.

With regard to your own work, this could be said of both the repetition of each line in a single drawing, and the reiteration that occurs throughout the series of drawings that you’ve made since 2008. Despite the fact that you came to this approach organically, have you thought about drawing in these terms? Do you think about development or change, or how you might continue?

Perhaps to continue working on the same series of work you need enough self-assurance to persevere but not enough to stop. The same applies to modesty, which I believe to be an excellent yet undervalued trait in art.

When I first understood Roger Ackling’s dedication of over 30 years to burning lines using the sun and a magnifying glass into pieces of wood and card, I was moved and it certainly struck a chord. Part of me feels I would be quite happy drawing lines for the next few decades, but I don’t think it will happen that way.

I received plenty of criticism in art school regarding the speed of my practice and subsequent slow development but I knew it was taking me forward, albeit at a gradual pace, and that it couldn’t be rushed. The lengthy process of the drawings provides a balance with the instantaneousness of the digital photography that feeds them.

I also make collages which usually come about relatively quickly; it feels dangerous only to produce time-consuming work and leave no room for experimentation. It is difficult to commit to a large-scale drawing if you just want to play and see what happens. Sometimes I think that the collages convey in the simplest terms what it is I am aiming for with my work, they usually consist of drawing alongside landscape photographs, and it is that comparison which drives me.

When I consider what I have made since 2008, I see a lot of changes in the work. It hasn’t stopped developing, though it does stay focused on similar themes and aesthetics. I don’t see it as ‘fully articulated’, which may be why I continue.

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LINTEL is available via Corbel Stone Press.

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