Rachel Hannan

"The bush is home to me. It holds so many memories of discoveries, moments of wonder and confrontations with harsh realities that require patience and calm to emerge relatively unscathed."



I have a connection to the landscape indescribable in words, but that I touch on through paint: the space between the stillness and the tearing winds; the ever changing relationship between forms and dancing light; the gap between what you see and what is actually there; the music of the colours that have no sound, the rhythm and energy of the elements that can't be stopped, won't be harnessed, can't be known. The landscape is passion, unpredictability, life, birth, sex, death; dangerous and harsh, yet comforting in its realness. It leaves me with the wonder of how to exist in such vast unkempt beauty.

"I move through the landscape with reverence and respect. It is never the same, every moment perfect and fleeting, impossible to portray but exciting to try."

Being in the landscape is like being in love. I am drawn to its power, glory and terror, in the hope that I can hold it forever, but it won't be captured. It's a wild thing. This is what I try to recreate in my paintings; the exhilaration of uncertainty and surprise, the freedom of the unknown.

I am lucky to have come from a family of sailors on one side, and farmers on the other. I grew up in Newcastle, NSW and spent much of my time immersing myself in the natural beauty and the exhilarating unpredictability of the ocean and the land. I remember being lifted by the power of a wave one moment, then being pummelled in the sand by a dumper, rising sandy and dazed, but excited by the power that overtook me seemingly out of nowhere. I remember exploring bush and quarries, old train tracks and creeks on horseback, alone and free, with no time constraints or expectations. The land and sea offered me limitless scope for dreaming, imagining, meditation and play. I welcomed dramatic changes in weather - tearing winds that made sailing wet and scary, pouring rain that made horse riding slippery and dangerous. 

In 1994, pregnant with my first child, I found myself in the Blue Mountains, NSW. The endless, cavernous blue horizons reminded me of the mesmerizing undulations of the ocean - an uninterrupted sea of bluegreen with no end in sight. The vastness and grandiosity was something familiar and comforting, and I knew it would be my home.

This fascination with the natural physical environment has endured for the 27 years that I have lived in the mountains. The extremes of the weather and ability to be lost within an hour of walking away from civilization entice me further and further into the unknown depths of the bush. 

The mountains are perched ideally on a high strip 1000 metres above sea level with the ocean to the east, and the gradually reddening soil to the west. There is a pull from out there where the land broadens out and the skies expand, a different kind of harshness and unkempt beauty, open and exposed. This land will always offer me inspiration and solace, a place where I can truly be alone, but connected to the energy and the life of the place where I belong.

I search out landscapes that thrill me. Walking, scrambling, running, canoeing, biking, driving; I love the anticipation of the surprise that may await me around each bend. I love vastness and intimacy, dramatic cliffs and simplistic plains - wherever exists an energy, some rhythm, a breeze, a storm, some inviting movement. The interplay of active skies and static forms, and the surfaces that dance in between create a tension that I like to draw out. I try to bring the elation and ecstasy that I feel in the landscape back to my studio, reliving and forming it into a painting with loose painterly strokes and layers.

Music and art are inseparable for me. Having been a professional singer for over 30 years, music imbues everything I do. In the landscape and in my paintings, I hear melodies in the unpredictability of forms, colour and movement. I feel the rhythms of the repetition and patterns in the natural architecture and the never ending abundance of different flora, water, clouds and surfaces. I bring the visual into my improvising when I sing, and similarly the music flows through my brush when I apply my marks.

We chat with Artist, Rachel Hannan

Why do you love representing the Australian bush and landscape through art?

I have spent most of my life riding horses, bikes, hiking, swimming, exploring and dreaming in the bush. I find independence and freedom there. I am in awe of the beauty and surprises the bush holds.

What is the ‘bush’ to you?

The bush is home to me. It holds so many memories of discoveries, moments of wonder and confrontations with harsh realities that require patience and calm to emerge relatively unscathed. 

What is your favourite place in the bush?

I love being amongst trees, especially heath and windswept, gnarled gums. The cliff tops of the Blue Mountains draw me to them repeatedly, as do the deep chasms, sculpted by rushing water.

How does the bush make you feel?

The bush makes me feel alive and safe all at once. It makes me inquisitive and calm. It’s everything - spiky and smooth, freezing cold and sticky hot, noisy, still, rocky, soft, crackly dry and drenching to the bone.

When you can’t physically be amongst the bush, what are other ways you like to connect with it?

I paint the landscape when I can’t be in it. It connects me back to the way I feel when I am on the land with the animals, the changing weather and transformative light. 

How does the bush influence what you create?

The vastness and changing conditions of the bush influence the scale of my work and my approach to painting.

I work in a direct and energetic manner. I complete the pieces in one day (sometimes two for the really big works) and I don’t return for touch ups or extra layers. In this way I try to relive the immediacy of the experience I had in that place, the feeling of it, rather than trying to represent how a place looks.

How does your art/product connect people back to the bush?

People who buy my work love it for the way it makes them feel. They often say that the paintings have movement and that they can go right into them and get a sense of what that place is really like. I paint swirling clouds, windswept plants and detailed flora - the big view and the small things people notice when they stop and look at what’s around them.

Why do you think it’s important that people connect to the bush?

I think the bush and nature help people to reconnect with what is real and important in the world. Nature is everything and we are only a small part of it. 

How do you think the ‘bush’ can play a role in connecting the city and the country?

The more wild spaces in the world, the better. 

A favourite stay? Why?

The Blue Mountains where I have lived for 30 years. Every day I can discover a new wonderland!

A favourite experience? Why?

Standing on the edge of a cliff in the wind, the tress blowing all around, the colours of the sky changing as the sun drops below the horizon. This feels like magic.