Visions of Venus | Hannah Moghbel
How do you prepare to create a piece for a themed call like Visions of Venus?
I first heard about the call for Visions of Venus on the John Dalton Podcast. In preparing for this call I carefully listened to his interviews with the curator describing what her vision was for the show. In her vision for the show, the curator expressed that she didn’t want to see typical reiterations of the classical portrayal of Venus. She wanted to see diversity. She wanted personalized interpretations of what a contemporary Venus might look like. After listening and re-listening to the interviews, I dug deep and pondered what Venus means to me. I researched some of the history behind the legend of Venus and then asked myself how I could humanize this inspiring mythic figure in the context of my own life-experience.
Who is Venus to you? Is there anyone who is a modern-day Venus for you?
Venus is soft and strong. She finds strength in her vulnerability. In the goddess of love, fertility and victory, her superpowers are the ability to transform, to create, and to overcome. I chose to paint Venus as self-portrait because it is important to be able to see the hero within ourselves.
Tell us a little bit about your piece in Visions of Venus?
The day after my father died (5 days after my little brother died) I returned to work. Massaging other people, helping others feel better, hearing about their problems helped to keep my mind occupied. The structure and predictability of work felt safe.
But what I could no longer do was paint. Not in my normal capacity. I felt spacey, forgetful, unable to concentrate. Painting creatively requires complex thought processes and my brain was occupied trying to process my grief.
I needed to keep my hands moving though, so I colored. I colored mandalas. I had colored them by my dad’s bedside and taped them to the wall where he could see them. After he passed, I started painting copies of fabric prints. This had the same kind of therapeutic effect as coloring.
In creating this new painting I wanted to incorporate my father’s Iranian aesthetic. This image was formed by overlapping a strong geometric Islamic design with a softer Persian paisley pattern in the background. The figure was painted from an old film still of my younger self rising and strong.
I chose to paint myself as Venus because I see her as a heroine and I think it’s important for all of us to be able to see the hero inside of ourselves.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced establishing yourself as a professional artist?
The biggest challenges that I have faced as an artist is feelings of isolation and also existential fears. I grew up in an extremely small town in Pennsylvania. My town actually didn’t have a local public school or real grocery store, you had to drive to the next town over for that sort of thing. Even the town that I graduated from in West Virginia was more of a village. I didn’t really come into contact with any professional artists who made a viable living off of their art work. The consistent feedback that I got from my surroundings, both laypeople, and art instructors alike is that ‘you can’t make a living from selling art.’ For the longest time, I believed them.
It’s important to have role-models and to be able to even imagine that something is a possibility before you can attempt to try in earnest. If you can’t even imagine a path towards success, how are you going to take the first step?
What do you like or dislike about being a fine artist in the digital age? In what ways have you had to adjust marketing yourself?
The ‘digital age’ has opened my whole world as an artist. The first portal out of my hole of isolation was finding ‘the Savvy Painter Podcast’ online where artist Antrese Wood interviews other artists, curators, and gallery owners. Hearing stories from real people and their artistic struggles helped me to realize that I am not alone.
In 2017 I joined Instagram and my eyeballs just fell out of my head! I found it so fascinating and inspiring to be able to access so much artist generated content in real time. Suddenly I could see trends happening across the globe, artists influencing other artists. I learned about tricks of the trade and discovered that even art celebrities are just regular people. When you are painting alone for hours in the basement, wondering who is ever going to see your work (aside from the handful of people who happen to come into your local art show now and then) it can be a bit disheartening. Having an instant audience on platforms like Instagram, and now Ello, and also having the ability to connect with other amazing artists has been such an inspiration to me!
When I found Didi Menendez PoetsArtists platform via Instagram, my life changed. Previously I had just been sifting through calls for art on my own via sites such as EntryThingy, TheArtGuide, ArtandArtDeadlines but it was difficult to navigate which calls were time worthy pursuits. Didi Menendez has a knack for finding and creating unique opportunities that are a cut above the rest. She has created a sense of community among quality artists, collectors, curators and reputable art venues. PoetsArtists resources have been a huge aid in my own professional development.
The only drawback that I am experiencing from all of this digital access, is that it can be a bit stressful at times. Knowing that there are so many opportunities now, often leaves me with a fear of missing out. Knowing what ‘all the other artists’ are doing, makes me feel like I need to keep up. I feel pressure to make more posts, to have a stronger online presence, to participate in more social engagement. If you are a slow painter, like myself all of this can take priceless time away from your studio practice. Learning how to balance those external pressures and not losing sight of my focus has been a challenge, but well worth the trade-off.