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Hanna Kay: ‘Intra-actions’ With Nature

Exhibition Introduction by Jo Moulton

Exhibition Description by Hanna Kay

Impact too 2012, oil and tempera on linen 155x140cm

*'Intra-action'' - is a Quantum Physics concept which focuses on the dynamic forces which all ‘things’ (including humans) are constantly exchanging, influencing and working inseparably.


I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this Country (the Kamilaroi people) and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Thank you Hanna for inviting me to open your exhibition, if only by proxy. Climate Change, in the form of flooded roads and endless rain, has impeded my journey from East Gippsland, Victoria, to be with you in Tamworth on Sunday.

I regard Hanna Kay as a ‘shooting star’, that is, a small piece of rock or dust that hits Earth's atmosphere from space. It moves so fast that it heats up and glows as it moves through the atmosphere and sometimes it (a meteorite) hits the earth’s surface.

How lucky is the Upper Hunter Valley, that Hanna has landed on this patch of planet earth, to a five-acre plot at Murrurundi “cradled between the Pages River and the ranges.” She brings with her the knowledge and wisdom that comes from an ‘artistic (and intellectual) trajectory’ that has taken her across continents, civilizations, cultures, languages, war and metropolises –Tel Aviv, Vienna, New York and Sydney, to this very place.

Here, in the Upper Hunter Valley, she has a deep relationship with this pocket of land. This country has pulled her into a biblical dialogue with Nature in all its complexity – its darkness and light, floods and droughts, cycles and seasons, colours and perfumes, its moods, its destruction, decay and its remarkable regeneration.

Hanna does not set out to capture the ‘beauty “of Nature. This exhibition, entitled “intra-actions,” is a rigorous insight into the dynamic and inseparable forces of Nature. She grasps what Indigenous elders and custodians have always understood; that Country is “more than land is our place of origin in cultural, spiritual and literal terms… that soars high into the atmosphere, deep into the planet crust and far into the oceans. Our belonging, nurturing and reciprocal relationships come through our connection to Country.”[i]

I have been writing and publishing about artists and designers who connect us to Nature on my site for some years. Inspired by Edward O. Wilson, Harvard biologist and advocate for the conservation of biodiversity, his book Biophilia (1986)[ii] argues that there is an innate need for humanity to connect with Nature, indeed, that our affinity with other species is fundamental to our survival. I have dipped into the life and work of artists and designers within this context – those on the global stage whose work is inspired by Nature and artists in regional Australia who live and work close to Nature.

From world famous artists like David Hockney, now in his mid 80s, exploring new perspectives of Nature through digital technology; Chinese celebrity architect Ma Yangson and his firm, MAD, designing futuristic, organic architecture with a contemporary interpretation of the Eastern affinity with Nature; Greek Landscape Architect, Thomas Doxiadis, conserving and re-generating the native vegetation of Ancient Greece and its agri-cultural heritage; to De Caires Taylor, British sculptor, whose monumental forms inhabit ocean floors regenerating coral reefs.[iii]

Australian artists working in this space tend to live in our regions, outside of the urban mainstream, close to Nature. I’ve dipped into Australian artists who brave the catabatic winds of Antarctica, like, John Kelly’s ‘Beyond Woop Woop’; East Gippsland artist, Dore Stockhausen, who documented the 2020 Apocalyptic conflagration in a series of monumental paintings entitled ‘From Hellfire to Epiphany’, Josephine Jakobi who submerges Belgian linen into the estuary for months where fresh-water meets salt-water from the ocean, capturing the rhythm of seasonal and annual fluctuations in salinity, temperature, water quality and tidal flows; and Vera Möller who sources her mixed-media creations from “A Thousand Tides” on wetlands and coastal shores of Western Port Bay inspired by the eco-systems for sea slugs, Weedy Sea Dragons, rare grasses, mangroves and the mud, sand and basalt terrains that form their habitats.

Hanna Kay is one of the most accomplished, skilled and complex of these artists. Not easily consigned to a box, she is, at once, in a constant state of flux as she ‘intra-acts' with the erratic and volatile state of Nature. At the same time, she draws us deep into her meditation, the life-affirming rhythms of Nature at its most tame and tangible - pulling feral weeds, feeding the chooks, walking the dog, willing the tomatoes to burst into ripe.

I believe that artists working in this space, ‘Where Art Meets Nature’ – are emerging as a contemporary movement, that by its nature, is unique to Australia. Artists, like scientists, are deeply engaged in the life and death challenge to protect and secure our rich biodiversity, if not for its survival, then for our own survival as a species.

Do not overlook Hanna’s masterly painting technique which is in the traditional tempera style of the Old Masters. It requires precise brushstrokes, layer upon layer of semi-opaque paint that she combines with a contemporary 'Jackson Pollock' style of splattered paint.

Her paintings are both purely abstract and painfully 'true to nature'.

The Hunter Valley is so fortunate to have Hanna. She is a meteorite of a woman, a creative and intellectual 'tour-de-force' who recognizes our co-dependence on Nature. If she increases local realization of the fragility of biodiversity in the Hunter Valley, then she is helping to change human behaviors towards other species and our precious environment.

I congratulate Hanna on this exhibition and all those involved at the Tamworth Art Gallery for hosting this show. I encourage everyone to visit and revisit, to soak up the brilliance and inspirational quality of Hanna’s paintings.


[i] Dr Daniéle Hromek, ‘Defining Country’ Architect and Cultural Scientist, a Saltwater woman from Yuin Country [ii] Biophilia Harvard University Press 1984 [iii]

Hanna Kay - 'Intra-actions'

Exhibition @ the Tamworth Regional Gallery April - May 2022 By Hanna Kay My artworks draw on the immediate natural surroundings in which I live. They are a record of memories and experiences. I don't document – I prefer to imagine and follow urges and sparks of intuitive ideas. Mostly my art is an aesthetic expression of the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. I entitled the exhibition Intra-actions to highlight this aspect of our relationship with the natural world and to emphasise that the ability to interact emerges from within the relationship rather than enforced from outside of it. And that this ability is in flux, and changing according to processes it is engaged in. I have been painting and drawing for over four decades in four continents where I was fortunate enough to establish myself as an artist. The trajectory of my artistic career has taken me from Israel, where I grew up, to Europe where I studied art in Vienna, to New York where I lived and practised my art for a decade, to Sydney for a decade, and finally to the Upper Hunter valley where my home and studio are situated amid five acres, cradled between a river and the ranges which provide an endless source of inspiration. Perhaps because I moved between cultures and languages, my way of connecting to a place, and making sense of it has been through the natural environment and it has served me as a point of reference when settling into a new place. In time I have come to recognize that the landscape and the forces that act upon it are the most important factors that shape a society's practices and an essential element in the formation of a culture’s distinctiveness. This conviction has been a driving force and a stimulus. The art I end up making explores the tension between order and disorder, between what-is and what-was. They offer the viewer a dialogue between states of being and can be seen as instances of cycles connected to natural processes of growth, decay, and regeneration.

Breeze [dry / wet] 2021

Breeze [dry] oil and tempera on linen, 6 canvases each 66x66 My intentions when making Breeze were to express visually the contrast of a life swaying between droughts and wets. Between silence and silence. In a drought the silence is loud. Birds and insects take their song to greener pastures. In Summer the sun is blinding and the air heavy and still. In Winter diluted light and thinner air render the day naked. The silence is even louder.

When it is wet, I can feel the silence skirts around the day, waiting for water to subside. And its absence is deafening. Thus, I follow my inner compass toward an aesthetic of silence. With regular, almost zigzagging movements, I create thin layers of oil paint. I use the brush as if it was a light breeze moving the colours on the surface of the canvas, making surfaces that reflect shimmering yet silent surroundings.

Breeze [wet] oil and tempera on linen, 6 canvases each 66x66 Into the Woods 2019 - 20 oils and tempera on rice paper, 21 panels each 140 x 70cm [installation detail] In this site-specific installation, I wish to draw the viewer into the forest, into an aesthetic of silence. The series, comprising of 21 compositions on Chinese rice paper, offers the viewer a pictorial journey that unfolds from lightness to darkness and back to light and aspires to underpin the forest as a network of communication. In some panels the presence of natural forces, such as dust, fog and mist, renders the forest as an intimate ambiguity. In other instances, distinct parts of the landscape, such as mountains and grasses provide a more discernible context. Although I draw on the immediate natural setting in which I live, there is no attempt to replicate here a particular vista. Rather the painted fragments of forests depict personal remembered experiences in the landscape.

When painting I draw on the techniques used by European renaissance masters, which I studied in Vienna. Thus, the surface of the Chinese papers is an outcome of layering of oil paint and tempera washes, splattering and rhythmic squiggly brushstrokes that are visible traces of labour-intensive painting activity. As such the artworks steer the viewer towards a multitude of issues ranging from a dialogue with art history and its gesture to a continuum to highlighting cross-cultural issues and their consequences for the natural environment. Video pan of the work @

Installation @ the Muswellbrook regional Gallery July-September 2021 Shibboleth Series (2017-18), Shibboleth: R oil and tempera on linen 100 x 200cm My daily walks are framed by fields of feral grasses and weeds stretching from one side, where the trees edge the riverbank, to the other side, reaching the slopes of the ranges. In some seasons, the dew on the tall weeping stalks will glitter in the rising sun, while the setting evening sun will catch the tips of motionless grasses turning the fields bronze. At other times the grasses are short, either frostbitten or drought thirsty The term “shibboleth” is taken from my native language Hebrew, and it means ‘ear of grain’. For me, in addition to personal memories of singing odes to the harvest of the land, and glorious images of golden fields of wheat swaying in the breeze, it evokes the Biblical myth of a massacre of members of one tribe by their brothers - the legend tells that after their defeat by the Gileadites, the Ephraimites tried to escape across the Jordan River. Stationed next to the banks of the river, the Gileadites would ask each person attempting to cross to say the word ‘shibboleth’. The Ephraimites, who were unable to enunciate ‘sh’ sounds, would say ‘shibboleth’, thus revealing their identity. The Gileadites slaughtered 42,000 members of the Ephraim tribe.

Historically, the word was used as a pronunciation test to identify the ‘other’. These days the word has a wide range of common meanings. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘shibboleth’ is 1) an old idea, opinion, or saying that is commonly believed and repeated but that may be seen as old-fashioned or untrue; 2) a word or way of speaking or behaving which shows that a person belongs to a particular group. In the artwork I intended to draw attention to the arbitrariness of definitions, in particular, when it comes to our treatment of the environment and its people, be it refugees on the other side of the world, or migrants and neighbours and their ‘otherness’, that disturbs our equilibrium. Experiences of the peculiarity of the ‘other’ does not always have to do with pain and intrusions. Nature, as the landscape presents, is just another way of meeting that which is different to us. Whether inspiring or threatening the working of nature's forces is inscribed on rocks, trees, deserts, and mountains. These aspects of the natural environment are portrayed in the artworks, and they evoke nature’s own cycles as marked by the seasons and Aeolian processes. The presence of unforgiving natural forces that may at any moment act, for better or worse, upon any place is depicted in each of the artworks. They are a reminder that is oblivious to us and our social and cultural constructions. The paintings are personal, remembered encounters in the landscape and an attempt to highlight the tension between human transiency and the resilience of the natural environment.

Shibboleth: B oil and tempera on linen 100 x 200cm in flux series

Shibboleth: B oil and tempera on linen 100 x 200cm

in flux series

Impact 2012, oil and tempera on linen 180x350cm An arid landscape looms high in my personal and cultural memories. On one hand, violent campaigns and tribal feuds have been fought over a minute expanse of desert terrain. On the other hand - a serene place of meditation and contemplation.

in flux – gimel, oil on paper

The desert is both silent and noisy - the silence of solitude and the noise of sand being made. The weather turns large rocks into smaller stones, and then into pebbles, and then into sand. Outer surfaces become sand grains that in time will turn back into sandstones. Such circularity is widespread. Ocean waves pound rocks, shattering them into stones, then to gravel and finally to sand. The wind carries the grains of sand inland. Making sand dunes where the wind will bang sand grains into one another making dust. And so on. concave/convex

oil and tempera on linen 155x280cm The idea of concave/convex intrigues me. The very same line that creates concave automatically creates convex, two opposites, each existing by virtue of the other. Links Tamworth Regional Art Gallery

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