Q+A With London Textile Designer Hannah Waldron

If I was a bit late to the Hannah Waldron party, only discovering her work in May at the Here & There exhibition that Field and Various Projects put on during our Noho Design District event, it’s probably only because I have a deep, embarrassing secret that, until today, I’ve never admitted publicly: I don’t know why, but I just don’t like most contemporary illustration all that much, particularly when it’s figurative. Which means that I can sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater, failing to notice the work I do love because I’m so busy filtering out the work I don’t. Waldron definitely falls into the former camp for me, probably because she has such an intricate, graphic style — she’s more influenced by the Bauhaus, for example, than the aesthetics of street art or cartooning. The woven Map Tapestries she exhibited at Here & There (and previously at Rossana Orlandi gallery in Milan this past April) feature long, abstract representations of her journeys from one place to another, plotting the transition in landscape between, say, Tokyo and a hot spring in Japan’s Gunma prefecture (pictured above). Check out some of Waldron’s works in this lovely Q+A, excerpted below, that ran recently on Designboom.

DB: Could you tell us briefly about your background?
HW: I graduated with a degree from the university of Brighton in 2007 in illustration and spent the next three years exploring that field, working on a variety of different projects and producing prints and books and exhibiting. In 2010 I spent 6 months in Berlin where I discovered the woven work of Anni Albers and Gunta Stolzl at the Bauhaus archive and fell in love with their work. On my return to London, a friend who had studied  weaving was looking at my work and suggested that my mark-making, which used a grid structure with a lot of horizontal and vertical lines and hatching, would translate well to the process of weaving. She gave me a quick lesson and I was hooked. I bought a small loom and began experimenting and immediately could see lots of potential for exploring ideas in that process.

DB: How would your describe your style?
I am interested in the reflection and mapping of experiences, particularly in relation to places. I draw upon a personal visual vocabulary of forms and mark-making that aim to distill information down to its most essential, with the aim to make images that communicate broadly and that might lead to personal interpretation.
DB: What has been your most challenging brief to date?
HW: I just completed a map for the Edinburgh Art Festival which I found very challenging, because normally my maps are my own interpretation of places, without too much need for accuracy. Obviously this map has to be really precise and user-friendly, so it was good to stretch my brain in that direction. But I think every brief is challenging, because you always want to do your best and push on a bit further with every job.

DB: How do you see your work evolving in the future?
HW: In the past few years I have been realizing that by studying and experimenting with different materials, I can let my images travel into different processes, so recently it has been in textiles, both printed and in woven structures. In the future I will explore other materials and would also like to investigate how my work can relate to spaces and interiors. I’ve done some site-specific work but I would like to collaborate more in this way, as I find it very rewarding to work with other people in different fields.
DB: What medium / material do you enjoy working with the most?
HW: At the moment it’s weaving, and in particular the tapestry technique. It’s like painting for me. It’s a linear and technical process, so it’s quite methodical and controlled, but also rhythmic and full of joy. I enjoy the constraints of working within the grid but there is so much freedom for what can happen within that space.

DB: What are the main differences between art and illustration for you?
HW: I am not really interested in disciplinary boundaries.

DB: Who or what has influenced your work the most?
HW: I really got a lot out of looking at the artifacts of different civilizations and practises outside of my culture, and then tracing that aesthetic back to cultural differences while also seeing universal values. I am very interested in Japanese storytelling, and also the values of modernist thinking and distilling information.
DB: How do you think the popularity of online resources have influenced design being produced today?
HW: There’s a lot out there and a lot looking the same! But it’s hard to say if that’s always been the case and now you just are aware of it more, or if people are looking too much at each other. I definitely think there is a zeitgeist which we are all influenced by, but as long as you are not just looking at these resources, and you have your own unique influences outside, then it’s good that these resources exist.

DB: Besides your professional work, what do you have a passion for?
HW: At the moment just learning as much as I can, aside from textiles, etc. I’m trying to get a fuller understanding of the systems and the mechanisms of the world and how we can try to imagine alternative and hopefully better ways of doing things, and how the skills I’m trying to achieve now can be useful to others. And of course all the regular stuff that makes life good: If I can go swimming in a lake or the sea or ride my bike down a big hill often enough, then I’m happy.

DB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
HW: Be honest and question everything.

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