Artist of the Month:
Hannah Bitowski

Hannah Bitowski’s artwork is beautiful. It is deceptively loose and smudgy, almost childlike in its depictions of bearded and tattooed ladies, Mexican wrestlers, pagan icons. Look harder and her drawings, stitch-work and prints are incredibly detailed; tentative (yet complete), subtle interpretations of the freak, the performer; personas that feature again and again in her work.

The Royal Standard-based artist has been based in Liverpool since completing her studies of Design Crafts at De Montfort University in Leicester. “Liverpool has a really welcoming scene. It’s quite small but there’s a lot going on. Everyone seems to be able to do what they want – if you want to make something happen you can – and I’m really glad I came here to grow in confidence”.

Hannah’s illustration techniques and concepts started to be inspired from visits to London. “Whilst at Leicester I got down to London quite a lot, to craft fairs, but also getting to see a lot of illustrators work and fine-art galleries…Tilleke Schwartz and other conceptual embroidery artists doing really interesting things outlining issues about women.” Much of Bitowski’s work is informed by traditional gender roles, but like many young creatives, her practise would take a combination of time and confidence to evolve.

One important step was work experience with paper-cutter extraordinaire, Rob Ryan, whose intricate cards you will have seen on sale everywhere from Utility to Waterstones. “I fancied work experience with someone doing illustration work and I was lucky to be offered a few days with him. My visiting illustration tutor Stephen Fowler got me in touch with Rob. It made me realise you can make your own ideas happen. Envisage them and make it work as a business – people will take notice. It was really nice to see the enthusiasm and the team he worked with. To see it’s not all really corporate or for the privileged few. Rob is also not what you’d expect – he’s an old rocker with an incredible record collection in his studio, with a wall of vinyl…!”

“It sometimes takes bad times to go for what you want. It feels the time is now to do what you wanna do”

The interest in paper cutting after working with Ryan emerged as an unexpected link to Hannah’s family history. “The paper cutting I did is a really traditional technique called wycinanki, used in Poland. My family are all from Gdansk.” Last September was the first time she’d been back to Poland for 10 years, and it gave her the opportunity to explore first-hand the indigenous folk museums, embroidery work and weaving. “There were some crazy costumes in a pagan museum. I’m really interested in costume anyway, and these are really well crafted using basic materials like straw, wood, paper and fur.

“I’m drawn to the use of domestic craft and techniques. It’s not progressive from a feminist point of view, but we’ve always used our hands and decorated in that way. How it develops in each culture… Haiti has a really interesting closed off culture with their carnivals. I’m interested in different cultures, how traditions come about, what they use, and what it means to them. In this age, these things can be lost, forgotten, and disappear.”

This brings us to Hannah’s Artist of the Month banner; based on playing cards, yet featuring portrayals of those cultural characters that represent so much to Hannah; the Polish man head-to-toe in fur festival dress;  the posing macho man; the Victorian bearded circus lady. Social constructs, personas, costume and masking, all interlinking.

So whats next? “I’d like to do bigger exhibitions. I have loads of ideas – just at the initial stages right now – but I want to bring all the elements of my work together in an installation; sculpture, printing, animation, drawing.” These ideas also include starting up an artist-led screenprinting business, co-founding feminist zine Queen of the Track, and an upcoming exhibition of prints and masks in Urban Outfitters, Liverpool One.

We heard a Polish saying that seems a good fit for Bitowski’s growth in talent and ambitions: ‘Do not push the river, it will flow by itself’. That probably goes some way to pinpoint the success of artists who live and work in Liverpool; there’s space to develop creatively incorporating a, dare we say it, can-do attitude.

“I’ve realised I can do what I want to do in Liverpool. It sometimes takes bad times to go for what you want. It feels the time is now to do what you wanna do.”

Check out Hannah’s work first hand at WCS INDEPENDENT RECORD + ZINE FAIR, Saturday 21 April 2012, 11am – 7pm

You can also buy her Tatty Lady prints in our shop


Posted on 04/03/2012 by thedoublenegative