Student Spotlight: Interview with Hannah Bouchard C’20 – Artist, Environmentalist & Advocate for Removing the Stigma of Mental Illness

Hannah Bouchard C’20 | Major: Political Science Minor: Studio Art

Hannah believes, “The things that cause us shame tend to teach us the most.” Through her art, she makes the frightening, beautiful and hopes that the pain of mental illness and oppression can be empowering and transformational. She looks forward to a career that will give her an opportunity to have a positive impact on our planet’s future and to continue to create meaningful art.

 When and why did you decide to major in Political Science?

I came to Drew intending to major in English because I did well in that subject in high school, but once I came to Drew I realized it was not for me.  I was always interested in environmental issues. I had given up meat as a senior because of the environmental impact.  I wanted to do something more for the environment and realized politics would be a way to enact change.  I decided to take the classes Business and Government and American Government, and I loved these classes.  Then I took an environmental policy course, that I also loved. This confirmed what I wanted to pursue.

Can you elaborate on your jobs and extra-curricular activities?

I have worked at the Career Center as a student assistant since my first year at Drew and I substitute teach for special education classes with students with behavioral issues and mixed disabilities in Ridgefield Park, NJ.  I also work with the Drew Student Voter Project on getting more people to register to vote and to increase awareness about elections.  Lastly, I have written articles for The Drew Acorn (see HERE.)

What has been one of your favorite classes at Drew and why?

Environmental Policy with Prof. Mundo opened my eyes to all issues that were important to me as well as environmental issues I wasn’t even thinking about. Painting II with Prof. Karolak was also a favorite because it gave me the freedom to paint whatever I wanted as well as watch my peers develop their own styles.

Have you done any internships, Drew shortTRECs, longTRECs, or nycTRECS ? If so how was that experience?

I did the NYC semester on Social Entrepreneurship last spring. It was really fascinating to see how nonprofits are borrowing more and more from for-profit business strategies to earn money. We had an opportunity to visit many organizations and see how they work behind the scenes. We went to the Met, Ford Foundation, and we even visited Materials for the Arts which is a place that allows art teachers to get art materials virtually free of cost to use in the classroom. It was a phenomenal experience!

I also did a shortTREC to Orvieto and Florence, Italy during the summer of 2018. I studied the Italian language, culture, food, and art. We visited Florence, and I went to a small town nearby called Bolsena with my roommate. I also went to Rome for a week with my mom and stepdad who came to Italy once I finished my program. When looking at schools I knew I wanted to take advantage of studying abroad but I was nervous to be away from home for long, so Drew’s shortTREC was perfect for me. I had an opportunity to see the famous tourist spots of Italy, which are amazing, but also meet the people that live in this beautiful country and how they live their lives in a more relaxed way than we do in the US. I loved Italy, it inspired me to want to travel around Europe with my boyfriend someday.

 What is your dream job?

I would love to work on an environmental/sustainability team for the Disney parks in Orlando, with the goal of helping their organization emit less greenhouse gases, reduce waste, offer more vegetarian options in their restaurants, shrink their ecological footprint, and work on a strong commitment to conservation.

 When did you first start painting?

I started painting my first year at Drew.  I wanted to take photography originally but the class was full so I took painting instead and I fell in love with it.  During the class I started buying canvases and began working on my own paintings at home and in the studios because I couldn’t get enough of it.

 What inspired you initially and what inspires you now?

Everything inspired me back when I first started painting.  I agree with Degas when he said “Painting is easy when you don’t know how to do it.” I had so many ideas that I wanted to explore. Traditional beauty interested me in the beginning, also things like makeup and drag, but now what inspires me are issues revolving around mental health, specifically in women, and oppression and environmental issues.

How has Drew helped you develop as an artist?

I just love the studio classroom setting. It is so different from painting on your own. I love watching how works evolve.  Seeing other student artists’ work is something you cannot replicate.  Students are more experimental and this inspires me a lot.  I get more inspired by other student’s art than by more established artist’s work.  I like to see the process of people exploring, and even failing, and watching how they move forward.

 What do you love most about painting?

I love documenting the artistic process.  Sometimes I like paintings more when they are half done because to me it’s more about the process than the finished product.  I like creating and seeing how a piece evolves over time.

What is your favorite medium to work in?

I love mixed media and oil paint.  I will paint with oil on a canvas but then add materials like sand, hot glue, paper, glass beads, Styrofoam, and glitter.

 What are your biggest influences?

Mental health issues, my boyfriend’s sister who is an art student at the School of Visual Arts, other art students at Drew, and family members and friends.

 Do you have a favorite painter (s)?

I love Paul Cezanne’s brushwork and colors. His work helped me get more relaxed with my brushwork and worry less about blending everything. I also love Italian Renaissance painters and other art I saw on my shortTREC to Italy, like the David, the Trevi fountain, and the School of Athens in the Rafael rooms.  I love the colors in those rooms so much, in person they are breathtaking!

On your website you mentioned that you love to explore environmental politics, mental health, and making the frightening, beautiful in your work, trying to empower these feelings and show how much they can transform us. Can you elaborate on that? 

Most of that is coming from my own mental health. I struggle with anxiety and that is why many of my earlier paintings were dark and sad. I wasn’t really doing anything about it.  I started going to therapy about a year ago, and I am not trying to hide it anymore.  I tell people that I go to therapy and I am honest about it.  I started taking medication for my anxiety symptoms and it changed my life.  I was terrified before I took it but my therapist said it was a good option and now  I am so grateful for this medication.  I feel so balanced now and not distracted by my difficulties in communicating. I feel like myself again. This is where the beauty comes in.  I believe this medication is “beautiful” because it allows me to be who I am. These issues were frightening but also so transformative, that too is beautiful.

This lead me to the next question, has creating art been transformative, even therapeutic, for you?  Has this work helped you deal with your mental struggles?

Absolutely, I cherish being able to look at my paintings and see my history and how I have transformed.  I see my tree painting, and I see how helpless I felt at the time through my colors and the desperate and sad faces. Now I am expressing the same struggles with mental health issues but my work shows I feel better and that I have grown.  My work is now more inviting and content, which is very indicative of how I feel now.

Does anything surprise you when you work?

Process wise, I feel like I have better technique now.  Originally I only painted myself or my boyfriend.  I rarely painted a friend or family member.  I was surprised how good some of the figures came out when I started to paint them.  Also it surprises me when I show my work and people have different interpretations.

Your paintings are bursting with color, energy, and life.  Is that deliberate?

Yes, I am very intentional about my color.  My early work was more monochromatic but now I am bringing in more color. To me they feel more full when they are colorful.  I am also trying to work with foundational color theory like using deliberate contemporary colors rather than just putting anything anywhere.  I want my composition and colors to look light.  More purples, pinks and blues and more daylight.

Tell me about Want to Change the World? Take One What does this painting mean to you?  What were you trying to convey with the bricks?

I wanted to work with more patterns so I tried to experiment.  I started with the idea of placing a canvas on the floor and dripping hot glue on the canvas.  I put paper on the corner and took it off, ripped it and tried again.  I saw hot glue worked as raindrops.  I made these bricks red and yellow, then green everywhere, which ties into the deliberate colors I have been trying to use.  Then I wanted a poster.  I thought the ones where you ripped off a number are funny.  I wanted it to be an obnoxious statement that you could change the world.  It evokes a feeling of being in a city and you see a flyer like that you have seen a million times.  It made the cover of the Drew Review this year (2019).

You may not think a flyer will have an impact but it can, just like the authors in that edition may not think their papers can change the world, but they will.

Hannah Bouchard | Want to Change the World? Take One, 2019, 20x26in

Glamour is particularly evocative, there’s a sadness there.  Are those tears?  Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for that painting?

Yes, they are tears made with glitter hot glue, a combination of sadness and beauty.  Originally I was just trying to do a face.  I did a large face, almost like a mask.  I wanted it to be very beautiful, and I went with a desperate longing as the expression. I wanted it to be feminine and show that no matter what you slap on your face it cannot change the sadness inside.  The black around it felt like TV static.

Hannah Bouchard | Glamour, 2019, 30x40in

Speaking of sadness, could you please talk about Sunk?  Is there a reason you paint large faces?  Is it to express an inner sadness? 

Back then I had difficulties with proportions so I just wanted to concentrate on faces.  Another student in a drawing class did a pool table scene which inspired me.  I knew I wanted to do a face, and wanted to figure out how to put pool balls around it.  I made it with Styrofoam balls.  I was interested in waste and garbage and balls swimming along in waste.  The face was emerging and I went with that.  Sunk – green is the waste and the face is gasping for air. The lips look like green lipstick. It is an environmental message as well as one about stress and helplessness.

Hannah Bouchard | Sunk, 2019, 36x48in

In the painting Anxious, a hand appears to squeeze a lung.  Can you talk a little about the concept of anxiety and the lung?  Where does that image come from? 

This is part of a triptych.  Before I went on my medication, my anxiety would manifest physically.  When I was anxious I was unable to breathe well.  That was the most frustrating thing about anxiety.  This was the beginning of my going into a dark phase.  I had always been afraid of blood and doctors and this painting was a way of facing those fears instead of avoiding them.  It was made with sand, beads, hot glue, a lot of paint and the hand appeared in all three paintings, because  I felt by doing this series I had a stronger grasp on my anxiety.  This was the first step of not being afraid and embracing what I felt and what I was going through.  It was getting a grip on my feelings. This triptych is titled Anxious 1/3, 2/3, 3/3, 2018, 26x30in.

Tell me about Future – Do the maps indicate a longing for travel?

Yes, it is a mixture of a longing to travel and my desire to see the world and an idea that came from a Political Science class where I learned about borders.  We learned that in Africa, the map in existence is one that colonialists had created. Most of the violence there today is because of the way the boundaries were created. This made me sad that I was just learning about this in my junior year of college. That is where the maps idea came in. The pins were originally put in areas where I had been or wanted to go but it was not enough.  I had a European map but I also wanted to add Asia and Australia.  I ended up putting the push pins in a variety of places. It was an aesthetic choice and has deeper meaning.

 

Vermillion should be a happy painting, yet, there is a feeling of aggression.  Is that intentional?

Back when I first started painting the mixed media components came first.  For example, hot glue could look like dripping paint, so I’d use that as the basis for a concept.  I was talking to my 13-year old cousin and she said hot glue on canvas looked like like ice dripping, so really I stole the idea from her!   The colors are fiery red and very summery. It is a study of color, that I always thought might be a series. One painting per color of the rainbow.

One of my favorites by you is Top of the Rock.  Can you tell me a little about that work and what inspired you to use the dripping paint approach?

That has a whole painting under it that was originally about pride.  It was me in feminine drag holding a flag and crying.  I felt it did not work, so I covered this huge 60 x 48. canvas.  It was left with a lot of texture. Originally I wanted to go for full bodies and I came across a photo of me and my boyfriend on Top of the Rock in New York. I remembered that day.  We had dinner and were at the Top of the Rock and I saw some of the photos that were taken and they made me feel sad and anxious. I broke down crying and my boyfriend was trying to comfort me and that is when my mom took that photo. At first I had the torsos and then decided not to paint the legs.  The paper on the edge was burned to be like a photo memory.  I really liked how it was centered on us.  So I dripped down to focus on the torsos and the embrace.

You’ve done some wonderful abstract paintings.  Is there a liberating feeling to abstract work, or do you prefer figurative and why?

I prefer figurative art.  This was something I explored after my first painting class.  I received a bunch of canvases around Christmas and at first I did faces and then I did this landscape inspired by colored hangers.  I love doing drips and using Gamsol.   I did huge shapes, 4 or 5 colors inspired by hangers and it was very liberating.  Then I went through and added texture.  With other abstracts I worried that it would be hung in an office and that they would be too decorative.  I felt happy with this one.  If I feel stuck I go to abstract.

Do you have a favorite work?

My favorite work is whatever piece I am working on at the time. I was always afraid to do detail.  The one I am working on now is called Good Girls. I am hinting at things within it and really enjoying the process of creating it.  I love adding to it and changing it.

What do you want people to take away from your work?

I want them to interpret my work in their own way. I have noticed that girls my age are not talking about their own struggles with mental issues. They are ashamed.  When we can have these discussions and talk about our issues, we realize we are all going through many of the same things.  Men too.  But women have a lot of struggles unique to us.  To empower women to speak up about their struggles is very important to me.  I am also passionate about the environment and write about it through my food blog and articles, but mental health is being expressed strictly through my visual art and it is super beautiful and sacred to me.

Why are environmental issues so important to you?

I believe in environmental justice because people of color or those in third world countries will be hurt the most by climate change.  That’s environmental oppression.  I am trying to ring the alarm. I am in a space of privilege and to keep quiet about these issues is unacceptable.

What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue of our time?  How can we all contribute to make things better?

Climate change is the most pressing environmental issue, or issue more generally, of our time.  We need to go to solar and wind power. We need to punish actors that are destroying our atmosphere. We are running out of time.  One of the best things we can all do for the environment is change our diet. Being a vegetarian is an effective way of dealing with greenhouse gases. If you cannot eliminate meat from your diet, then lower your daily intake.  We can all do this and we can also support the right candidates.

How do you see yourself growing as an artist over the next few years?

I want to find the things I want to paint the most, and find something new to become excited about. Things like scale, figure and composition are important to me.  I want to still be creative and change things up but within a framework.

Can we purchase merchandise with your art?

I am a featured artist with College collection. We are collaborating to print my work on shirts, stickers, etc.

One last one question: Can you give us a fun fact about you not covered in this interview?

I’m a Disney freak! I visit Disney World in Orlando multiple times a year and I’m obsessed with it. I try to watch a Disney movie every week, even if I’ve seen it. I love the company so much and their commitment to creativity but also social issues. They’re very philanthropic which I would hope considering the impact they can have. I am just a huge Disney nerd and any news you tell me about the parks, I probably already know!

 

By Yasmin Acosta, Launch Catalyst

Coordinator of the Arts, Communications, and Languages Career Community

October 2019

Posted by Yasmin Acosta
Yasmin Acosta Launch Catalyst Yasmin Acosta