Leah Hewson is an artist. It took her a few detours to accept her vocation but here she is, thriving. She just completed a residency at the RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy). “I was always encouraged to do art. A couple of my teachers and my parents saw something in me. I was always making things and drawing. Maybe it’s a typical start to an artist’s story.” What is atypical is her shunning of it. “Then I found boys! Also both of my older sisters went to UCD. I looked up to them and thought, ‘I want to go to UCD and have the craic there.’ I went, and I totally forgot about being creative.”
Her teenage rebellion was to do an Arts degree and to blend in. The mask quickly slipped. “My Dad was like, ‘Fucking hell, will you just go to art college!’” So she did. She went to Sallynoggin to complete her portfolio course. “It was a life changing year for me because I met so many people that were individuals. I always felt that I was trying to conform at UCD. When I met all of these people who were just themselves, it was like whoa, this is amazing!’ I loved it.”
Aside from her art, her other standout gift is her laugh. It’s infectious and disarming. It renders ease. She listens intently and is proud when she speaks about her work, as she should be. It’s a quiet confidence that she inhabits that could have been stifled had she not bowed to her nature. She continued her artistic apprenticeship at IADT (Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology). “Whilst there I learned that I’m more of a 2D surface type of person. You’ve only got one façade to worry about!”
Creative professionals have a tough time knowing their value. Perhaps it’s a societal issue, in that many people dismiss art as something anyone could do. That constant drone of negativity unfortunately means that creative professionals undervalue their time when billing. “It’s such a tough transition to go from college to trying to be a working artist. You’re not necessarily told how to market yourself and how to price work. All of these kind of things that are important.” Luckily one of her peers was opening a gallery around that time and she exhibited some of Hewson’s work. It allowed her to understand the commercial aspect of the business.
Hours are put into creating a piece of work. It’s an emotional and physical process. When it’s sold it can be momentarily bittersweet. “Sometimes I wonder where are you going to hang it? Do you stick it in the bathroom? I was surprised by some of the pieces that I sold, I guess people see something in it. It’s funny because a lot of my favorite pieces from certain shows haven’t sold. Sometimes I think whoa, this is amazing it’s definitely going to sell! Oh shit it didn’t! I still have them, which is nice!”
As touched on before humour is very important to her as well as, “anyone who uses really bright colors. That’s what I’m attracted to, and patterns. I think political art is very important. Ai Weiwei is doing amazing stuff with art. He helped me understand political art, having said that I’m not a very political thinker. I try to steer clear of it. But I like real minimal, contemporary, conceptual work.” Putting so much of yourself into your work can be draining but it also allows you to understand all your emotions clearly. “I crave the instability of that emotional roller coaster. It helps you recognise if you are going through a lull and warns you to take a step back.”
Like any career, you evolve and have to welcome change. A stint in New York challenged her approach. “I was working with Sean Scully. Abstract art never really drew me before. When I came back from that, I realised where the joy was in creating my own work. It was all to do with the backgrounds and the patterns. That’s where I was most joyous in creating. I realised that my default style was to insert some sort of a figure to grab the audience. After my time with Scully I realised I don’t need to do that because it’s me going into the artwork. I think that’s the progression that I’m taking at the moment. It’s more of an instinctual approach to art making. I’m becoming more inspired by the materials that I use.”
“I used to think you have to have an end goal, and you have to have a huge dream. What works better for me is that I’m moving forward, even if it’s just a small bit. It means that I’m constantly drawing or making or thinking about it. It might not happen as quickly as you want it to, but it’s happening at that moment.” Wise words for such a young soul. It’s a philosophy that reflects her but is not her ultimate definition. As said previously she is someone that is open to revision. Currently she is studying Carl Jung’s writings about the unconscious and no doubt she will employ some of that into her next work. She is curious. She is grounded. She is funny. But above all else she is fierce in her focus.