Text by Kit Chan
Photo by Hannah Jensen
Translated by Derek Leung
Out a brown hare dashes from the picture frame.
The pet with extraordinarily slender hair and round apricot eyes defines dexterity and vitality.
However, the closer you look, the bigger surprise you find. Instead of being drawn with a paint brush, the rabbit is manually carved to its perfection.
The greater awe is the immense complexity of this craft. Contrary to the normal practice of direct engravement on wood boards, the artist first decides the content and apply over the boards one layer on another the acrylic paint of various colours and shades until dry. After being painted for some 60 layers, the wood boards will be carved with a knife to show all the hidden colours.
This not only presents a 3-D layering effect but also a kaleidoscopic collection of colours and shades simply and purely sharpened by a knife.
What you may wonder is how much precision and patience the artist has to have.
Hannah Jensen from New Zealand is the very one to give you an answer. Making her unprecedented signature style known to others, the locals thus get used to calling her a paint carver instead of a regular painter.
Reputed for time-consuming dedication, Hannah paints before her engravement every single board with 70 layers of paint, which usually takes three or four months to complete.
“That’s sort of ‘painting in reverse’ since the image of the work has long existed in my mind,” described Hannah, implying the time she spends is simply realizing the painting.
Such a story of mistakenly beauty started when she was a sophomore. She used to be anyone who paint in white after carving, but once her assignment deadline and even her curiosity drove her to mess up everything and paint by mistake before carving. As the tale went, she thought why not and what if she carved on a thick layer of oil instead of a wooden board.
Finally, she applied 23 layers of colour and did not stop until everything was fully consumed. It is this bold experiment that leads her to the present path of creation.
15 years on, despite being a highly acclaimed artist in New Zealand now, she has never stopped delving into this rule-breaking carving technique and trying to find an even better solution.
But what she does want to explore through art is Nature and the lives both strong and fragile therein. A keen hiker among mountains and streams, she keeps her drawing focus on animals, flowers, trees, mountains, as well as the inhabitants around the world, like you and me.
This spring, she showed eight of her giant carvings in her large-scale solo exhibition called WILD in the gallery of Allpress Studio, a New Zealand coffee shop.
It was a summary of her creative works for the past 15 years. A walk inside the exhibition seems an excursion around the world. Carved animals like the dancing Japanese red-crowned cranes, the roaring polar bears, the African elephants in meditation and the zebras walking in pairs were so real while more importantly it was the colour in layers that reads the artist’s mind.
It is crystal clear that she carves big to ask everyone to remember the living wild animals and to protect them together with their homes. And, the driving force is her love to her family.
“My dad bought a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa in 2000 and I always flew there. He and the animals were my company and I created a lot at that time.”
Her father’s departure in 2016 is also one of the reasons, as the most direct way to commemorate, for her to run the solo exhibition.
To her, Nature and her creative works form the bonding and take her equal share of love.
“I’m more than happy when I surf in the ocean, cycle in the mountains or walk through the forest.” She keeps trying to bring such pleasure into her works and wishing the message can be passed to those who see and buy her works.
Besides drawing and being embraced by Nature, she volunteers to teacher children art at the hospitals for children.
Though it is a long journey to paint and carve as your lifelong goal, it is always lovely you can feel and live your life at the pace which you expect.