Leah Hewson is a visual artist based in Dublin. After graduating from IADT in 2010, Leah has gone on to residencies in Ireland as well as New York and Berlin. Her prize-winning abstract work explores a visual expression for the unconscious mind and how it can be unraveled, excavated and expanded.

‘Konami Code’, Acrylic and Lacquer on Canvas, 182 x 201 cm, 2019

Where did you spend lockdown?

In Kimmage with my partner and one of my two housemates. My other housemate was in Mexico when the lockdown came in and then decided to quarantine with her parents so we were lucky in the sense, we had a lot of space to ourselves. I have never been so grateful for a lovely housemate that I get on well with… and a garden… and a 24 hour garage across the road for emergency wine… and good weather!

Did you have access to a studio during this time? If not, how did you continue to create work?

My studio was within the 2km and is on its own so I still had access to it, although I completely unravelled in the first 2 weeks and lost all motivation to work. The only other time this has happened to me is was when I was grieving so it’s interesting to think about the parallels there. I also realised in that time that structure is so important for mental health.

I did paint in this time, but it was mechanical painting, a shelving unit and our bathroom. I got into the baking buzz, gardening, fixing etc, anything that kept my hands busy but didn’t require too much brain power. I also started to run and meditate. I would rarely give myself the time to go so slow as I feel pressure and guilt from being self-employed. If I don’t do the work, then it doesn’t get done. Already I have let the slow mornings and meditation fall away and the constant underlying level of stress is creeping back in! I certainly have felt the anxiety of coming out of lockdown more than going into it.

Could you briefly talk me through your art making process? 

I am primarily a painter, but like to challenge myself by experimenting slowly and methodically with different materials and mediums.The painting is a pure energetic expression of who I am from an unconscious level. I approach it impulsively and instinctively, rarely planning or knowing what the outcome is, unless its a specific commission where planning is essential, so I don’t have many notebooks. I have been drawn to acrylic and spray paint because they dry fast and allow the quick flow of creativity. I guess most of my work is bright in colour and is a big soup of shapes, pattern and dimension that celebrates the unconscious and pure expression. 

Music is an important part in my process as I listen to hours of repetitive beats that put me into a flow state that activates my unconscious. I could be working on something for hours and when I come back up for air it only feels like I’ve been ‘gone’ for a few minutes. I think I can be quite indecisive sometimes so my approach to painting is defiant of this. I would rarely hesitate putting paint down, believing that every mark is important and not to be afraid of the white canvas. I think I actually really enjoy interrupting the white space as a rebellious act. I realised recently that the painting in my practice is for me. I don’t paint for anyone else. Whereas the other material experimentation is for the work itself. I’ve been trying to bring the layers in my painting out into the physical space by using perspex and vinyl and looking at installation, video and animation to create a more immersive experience for the viewer that questions perception and illusion.

Installation shot in the RHA

Did you experiment with any new materials or methodologies?

For the first time I managed to get competent at Photoshop. I had done courses in the past but never had any practical projects to practice what I had learned. I had to design posters as part of the Facebook AIR program. It was a great learning curve and I’m delighted to have put the time to some good use. I have also been dabbling in video and animation work so I completed a (very) short piece which was also a good learning curve in video editing. It literally took me 3 months to edit a 2 minute piece, I have new found respect for editors!

Given the limitations and restrictions of the last few months, did your art making process change at all?  If so, do you think this will continue to change how you will make art going forward?

My day to day situation didn’t change much actually so I was very lucky in that sense. I wasn’t forced to work from home but felt a desire to be at home most days. Maybe this was a protection or comfort thing I dunno. Even though I’m so used to spending most of my days working alone the loneliness in the studio within the eerily empty city was palpable. 

Did you have any projects during this time that went ahead?

I was in the middle of four paintings for a private commission when we went into lockdown, so I just continued to work on them. The rest of the my projects were all just postponed and I managed to get another commission in the middle of it all which gave me a good lift to keep going. I was due to do a mural in the new Facebook headquarters as part of their AIR program in June but that just been delayed a month so that’s fine and I was able to work on the posters in the mean time. Lots of people were getting in touch for available work but I had nothing to offer and I also felt a desire to give back as a way of connecting with people (the buzz for the zoom calls was wearing thin at this stage!), so I released two editions of prints online to try to help in some way with 20% going to Pieta House which was a real success.

‘Levity’ Digital Print, 2019

Do you have any upcoming projects?

‘Assemble’, a group exhibition at Atelier Maser was due to open the day we were put into lockdown. We had literally just finished the hang when Leo gave us all the good news. It was postponed but is now opening the 8th August. Al and Martina have some great ideas that will allow people to enjoy the work and the opening all while adhering to social distancing guidelines. It’ll be great to reunite with the gang but maybe a little strange… I hope my social skills are still up to scratch and I don’t bore people with 20 minute conversations about almond flour haha. 

I’m into Facebook on the 20th July for a 2 week install of the mural and then have an exciting project coming up with Waterford Distillery with a few painting commissions tipping away in the background. I just spent a week in with Stoney Rd Press finishing off some whopper prints so I’ll be excited to show them at some stage. David has got some big ideas in there, his energy is infectious!

All photographs were provided by Leah Hewson. To see more of Leah’s work visit her website and Instagram.