an interview | summer 2016
“You know sometimes when you get dressed and you say to yourself, 'oh, I look so pretty' but I don't want to look pretty, I want to look interesting. If I'm too pleased with the aesthetics, if everything is too aesthetic, it's not true, it's not honest.”
To say that Hanna Ruminski is simply a talented artist does not properly encapsulate her brilliance. The complexity of her creative spirit travels a dynamic path, one filled with discovery, love and most importantly, evolution. Hanna was born in Poland and lived there for some time, before moving to Canada in the early 80's. Listening to and understanding her process and philosophies by means of this interview has truly been transformative. Her outlook on creativity from a woman's perspective is deeply insightful. She elaborates on this concept and touches on the discipline required to evolve beyond static tendencies and prosper in the role as an artist.
In this interview, we gain insight on her journey, the creative process she undergoes as well as her ideology when it comes to living a creatively authentic life.
I spotted an old painting- child like, in her victorian High Park Avenue home and inquired about it’s backstory.
HR. I was in grade six, in Poland and we had an art class, basically drawing and painting. This was for a project, the topic of the project was to depict what we were going to be when we grew up. I made a drawing of my studio, I was a painter, wearing this cape and a kind of french beret. It was with crayons, with pencil and crayons and I had paintings all over my studio, I had an easel, and a palette, and that was my answer to this project’s question.
It was, I remember, in grade six and I received the highest mark of the class from my teacher.
I always liked drawing, you know- colouring. Later in high school, I joined an art club which was not affiliated with the school, an art club outside the school, extra curricular. I was always doing that.
Then I decided that I was going to go to the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland.
There was a very complicated exam. First you had to submit your portfolio. Once your portfolio was accepted, there were three or four levels of practical exams. There was a sketch one day, drawings, paintings and then something else. Then there was a graphic design component. There were 40 spots and over 200 people applied, so it was really hard to get in.
CR. How long did that process take?
HR. It was 2 weeks of Exams. I studied graphic design and my major was book illustration. I was there for 5 years and finished with a Master's degree. That was in 1980. Then, in 1981, I came to Canada.
CR. From being in Poland- living there, studying art then all of a sudden moving to Canada, what was that like, what did you do?
HR. That was hard, because I studied in Poland was active in the artistic scene and in Canada, nobody really recognized me. In Poland, I studied under very famous professors, very famous artists, here I didn't know anybody. When I took my portfolio to the Toronto galleries, they said said 'no, we don't accept new people', they didn't even want to look at my paintings. But I still kept painting at home. I was always doing some ‘other’ job because I had to pay for the apartment, life, you know, always working somewhere else but painting all the time and participating in different shows.
In 1988 Tom (her son) was born, so I was busy with children. My husband had a furniture studio and I always had my art studio affiliated with his business in some way, so in many cases, he would include my paintings in his design interiors for his clients.
I remember in 1998, I joined my first gallery in Toronto, Marcia Rafelman Fine Arts, I'm still with her. Then I joined Art Interiors, I think in 1999, I'm still with them very successfully and then about nine years ago, I joined Trias Gallery and about four years ago, Gibson Fine Arts from Calgary. So I'm basically with 4 galleries, all within Calgary and Toronto. With the children you know, they started going to Universities and going through their process, I painted more and more actively and treated it as a full time job basically.
CR. Being with a gallery, what is that experience like? Do they request a body of work from you and you have a deadline to complete?
HR. They don't really request, I have to really make sure that I have new pieces. It happens you know, some pieces sit for four or five years but the gallery says 'no, we're still showing them, we're still showing them'. But if I have a new body of work, then I call them, 'I have a new body of work, come and see', So they come to the studio, usually, and see the new body of work which is, three, four, five pieces. Most of the time- I would say 100% of the time, they pick up most of the pieces or they take two or three and they bring me some older ones back, which I then either repaint or resell somewhere else.
CR. You repaint them?
HR. Well let's say I don't like the painting, I just put primer on and paint something else. I use the same canvas and repaint. But in many cases I sell privately from home or sell them to places who resell older pieces. If I have pieces that are eight years old, ten years old I resell them for 1/2 of the price rather than keep them in storage.
With Marcia Rafleman- until this year, since 2003, I have been participating in the most prestigious Art show in Canada, which is the Art Toronto-The International Art fair. It's always happening in October at the International Convention Centre. It's European galleries, Canadian galleries, American galleries, but modern art only. The top top top galleries. So with Marcia Rafelman, she was representing me at that show.
CR. You mentioned that you treated your painting as a full time job. When you are an artist, sometimes it's difficult to treat your art as a full time job because you feel that you need to do another job to make ends meet.
HR. You have to commit the time, it has to be done, so it is a lonely job because you are by yourself in the studio and you have to have the motivation to basically do it all because it's not only painting that you have to do. You have to get the stretchers, you have to stretch the canvas, you have to prime, you have to do all this preparation. It not like 'oh I don't feel like doing that today', If you have time to do it, you do it. Let's say I have three days off, I'm spending those three days painting. Even on the days I work, if I have two free hours, I try to do something to progress. Some people treat it as a hobby, they just have extra time and that’s when they do it but in my case, no, because this is my job so I'd rather not clean the house or not attend a social meeting, I'd rather paint, because it's my job. I have to develop my work and the more I paint the more I develop it, you arrive with more ideas and become more creative because you can feel creativity flowing all the time, you have to do that. In the past, when I had taken longer breaks from my work, it was very, very hard to come back to that certain mode of thinking.
Thank God for the show I am doing right now, I am able to be calm with it, not panicked. In the past I was panicking, 'oh no, I can not paint, I don't know what to do, what to paint' and I was trying desperately at times to save a painting and this time, I am very very calm, I don't know why it's happening but it is. I'm very calm and painting, usually, a few paintings at a time. So, it's a matter of your mental state and that you treat it as your job. I've done this all my life.
CR. How do you maintain that?
HR. Just be very concentrated and disciplined, basically. Because you know, it's interesting, I had a wonderful professor at the Academy of Fine Art's, a woman who was very successful- great work and she was telling me that being a creative woman, being a creative and being a woman, is very very difficult. As women are multi-taskers. She would say, she knows she has to go to the studio and paint but at the same time she’s constantly thinking 'I have to do the dishes, I have to do the laundry, to maintain our life', so to be successful you have to just block out all the other stuff and say to yourself 'no, I'm just going to my studio, closing the door and I am there', forgetting about other stuff. She has a very famous husband, he was a designer and also a professor at the academy and she said, 'my husband could trip over a pile of dirty dishes or something but he would continue on his way to the studio- to work and I would rather clean up and make everything clean and then work.' So this is being self disciplined you know, you say 'no, I'm not doing anything else, I have to spend this two, three, four, five hours, working'.
CR. When it comes to growing and developing as an artist, there is a certain level of honesty and authenticity that you have to have with yourself in order to have your best work come out. What has been your experience with honing a sense of honesty and authenticity of who you are, not trying to please anyone.
HR. I have a few painters that I admire and I connect with them but I try not to look at their work too often because their images stay in my mind and I want a clear mind and have only whats in my head. I don't do any sketches, I don't really know how this painting is going to look when it's finished. Sometimes and with my current body of work, I always thought that- very very generally, that I would like to use lighter colour and more earth tones, more browns, more beige and just an accent of orange or red, something. So that was just a very general idea and I wanted to keep them kind of lansdscapy- so, horizontal lines, but that was just an idea.
When I start the painting, I begin very spontaneously and this is the most interesting moment because I don't know what is going to happen, I get myself lose I would say, anything goes.
I apply paint, I apply different texture and I scrape and I repaint and I scrape and I repaint and I just try to create the base that would speak to me. This is the moment that your mind brings forth raw ideas, I call them ‘raw’, these natural instincts coming from within you. I try not to think too much, not to analyze or over intellectualize but rather to be very gestural, because I think these gestures comes from within, from my soul.
And then I step back and I say 'ok, what's happening, what can be saved, what's happening?' and this is the beginning.
In many cases I uncover some layers, which is very emotional because we have layers and sometimes we put up these shields that people can see but we have layers underneath and not everybody can show you all their layers, so for me, uncovering those layers, is very personal. The whole process of painting is very personal so I really don't like when people stand and look at me because I am very vulnerable.
Most of this stuff I would say, happens by accident, but this accident has to be really controlled and you have to observe this accident, so it's happening but either you avoid this accident or the accident is going well or you feel too confident- 'oh this is such a nice painting' - but if that’s the case, then it's wrong, so I have to kind of damage that which is pleasing me and start again because it was pleasing me too much too early, it's false, it's not real, do you understand what I'm saying?
You know sometimes when you get dressed and you say to yourself 'oh, I look so pretty' but I don't want to look pretty, I want to look interesting. If I'm too pleased with the aesthetics, if everything is too aesthetic, it's not true, it's not honest.
So I try to scrape it and quite often- because I'm right handed, I try to use my left hand for the different gestures because sometimes I think my left hand is more honest and not as trained. So all of a sudden scraping with the left hand, it's this raw shape or this raw movement.
CR. What's the idea behind the letters that we see in your paintings?
HR. Well it started with Malinka (her daughter), she was doing some scribbles and I saw this honesty in her drawings in her scribbles and I think it's just so honest and so pure and that I needed to have the same way of connecting with myself, like a child would with their scribbles. So I kept all Malinka's scribbles. The first painting was with lines and then those lines evolved into letters, into signs, this and that and then it was more and more and more. Some of my paintings were just covered in letters some were just one word.
words: carter reid
photos: carter reid