She went from India to Indianapolis to Portland

By Ryan Farrell, Staff Writer

For decades, the USM Art Department has been a creative sanctuary for both students and faculty alike. This fall, the department will be welcoming its newest faculty member, Hannah Barnes. As an artist with a rich history in drawing and painting, she will be teaching beginner and advanced art courses throughout the school year.

Barnes has a BFA from Maine College of Art and a MFA from Rutgers University. She has been teaching art related courses for over fifteen years. She taught at Ohio State University and Rutgers University before transitioning to her current teaching position at Ball State University, where she has spent the last ten years.

Painting has been a lifelong passion for Barnes. She uses abstract paintings to recreate patterns and geometry related to social practices in other countries. Barnes believes that most abstract art goes against its own meaning, usually deriving from very familiar social contexts.

Photo Courtesy of Hannah Barnes

The developing technique of using geometry as a language within art inspired Barnes significantly. This practice is common in rural based populations. Barnes used this concept to analyze and incorporate how her own abstract art communicates to the viewer. She is heavily influenced by eastern methods due to their noticeable deviation.

Barnes will be transitioning to the east side of the country from Indianapolis, Indiana. One may wonder why an experienced professor would relocate from Indiana to Maine. Barnes experienced a profound inspirational response from Maine’s ecology and considers herself a “New Englander at heart,” due to the fact that most of her family resides in Massachusetts. She also lived in Maine for seven years after her undergraduate studies.

Barnes said that Maine possesses a sense of place like no other and other artists seem to have a similar observation.

“Maine has always, for decades, been a destination for artists. People have been going there to work, to be inspired by the environment, the culture, the people there for decades going back to the 1800s,” Barnes said.

During her job interview with USM, a faculty member commented that for many people, Maine initially feels like a small town. However, over time people discover how unique the state truly is. This resonated with Barnes and she yearns to return to Maine.

One of Barnes most notable accomplishments and artistic influence was spending several months in India. She was as an artist in residence, staying in different art institutes located in Bhubaneshwar, Delhi and Kerala. During her stay she met local artists and studied the ritualistic practices of Indian artwork while also developing her studio practice. Barnes described a ritualistic practice known as Rangoli, where women would make a drawing throughout the day out of chalk and rice flour. By days end, the drawing would be wiped clean and they would start again the following morning. Barnes said that ritualistic expression allows people to think about their art in a more complex manner, causing them to focus on the meaning and expression of a piece.

Barnes always had a strong liking toward the country. In her youth, her grandfather would bring back paintings and sculptures from his frequent travels to India. Travelling to the country herself only expanded her curiosity. She traveled to India for a second time, where her work was featured in the Bhubaneswar Art Trail while developing more relationships with native artists.

Barnes stated that once she discovered what India had to offer she had to have more, comparing it to discovering a favorite author and wanting to read all of their material. She said that eastern practices made her rethink the creative process.

“In western art we have, for example, linear perspective. That’s how we organize space in western art. And in eastern art, linear perspective isn’t really used the same way. They have totally different methods for creating space and constructuring images,” Barnes said.

For Barnes, India is a lifelong engagement. “I think I’m going to be going back to India my whole life” she said. Barnes’ also hopes to travel to India’s surrounding countries such as Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh in order to discover their rich and expansive history and culture.

Barnes ultimately wishes to empower her students by helping them find methods of creative expression while having a critical eye. She believes that understanding art is recognizing the connection between art and culture. Images can provide a strong connection with the viewer.

Barnes stated that artists can use this to their advantage by creating pieces that relate to cultural issues. This helps evoke empathy for the chosen subject. Barnes looks forward to being involved at USM because she feels that the university has a strong social conscience. Previously, the campus has brought attention to issues such as environmental preservation and social justice. Barnes hopes to expand student’s understanding of the cultural and societal impact of art. For more information visit hannahmbarnes.com.

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