Palimpsest: In Studio with Hanna ten Doornkaat

German born, UK based artist Hanna ten Doornkaat’s art is a meditation on the limits and possibilities of a line. Working in hard graphite pencil on wood panels, Hanna builds up intricate textured layers of line work through a laborious process of mark-making and erasing, incising into the panel to create depth by stripping away at the surface. Hanna says that she is interested in the idea of deconstructing an image and the way in which digitized images on a screen increasingly mediate our view of the world. This translates into the way in which she exhibits her work, grouping the drawings into wall-mounted installations which from afar are reminiscent of monitor screens playing static. While Hanna’s art may orientate around the notion of a line, her work has an unmistakable three-dimensionality to it. The panels stand off from the wall and become object-like, giving physical form to the geometric shapes that feature on the surface.

We chatted with Hanna to find out more about her process and art, and using power tools to draw! Enjoy.

AMM: Hi Hanna! Your artist statement says that your art explores the process and meaning of drawing. Please share with us a little about how you understand the interplay between line and form.

HD: The serial mark-making process as an act of compulsion is a crucial aspect of my work. Although it is process-driven, the visual impact of the work when viewed up close is also quite important. The notion of the line and its relationship to drawing is central to my practice. In my most recent works, the lines form as a direct response to the continual thread of fleeting moments in the online/social media experience. Line has an aesthetic importance in each of the individual works, but also as an invisible or ghostly line, a conceptual idea that I have been interested in for a long time. I have a spatial approach towards drawing. I am trying to take away those very strict boundaries of traditional ideas about drawing and what is drawing. I often envisage the works in the form of an installation, in connection with one another rather than as solitary works. Another recurring element in my work are combinations of geometric shapes, and the lines are what holds them together.

AMM: What are some of the mediums you work in, and what appeals to you about them?

HD: My favourite medium is the humble graphite pencil, and at most times it is the hardest 9H that I am drawn to. These days, I am working mostly on small plywood boards which I prepare with gesso and acrylic before I begin ‘drawing’ the first layer of graphite pencil lines. The scale is quite important in my work. There is something intimate about working on the small panels which I enjoy. They often form fragments of a larger piece, which usually happens subconsciously. I also have an ongoing series which I call my ‘memento series’ which are usually 10 x 10 cm boards. I consider them to be fragments of slightly larger panels. I am interested in the idea of deconstructing an image, particularly in relation to the square pixels of digital imagery and square framework that social media such as Instagram prescribes to.

AMM: What lead you to experiment with using drills and other power tools in your art? What do these tools brings to your practice? 

HD: I grew up with heavy duty wood working machines in my father’s factory, and from a young age received great joy out of using all the tools available to me, and to this day I enjoy a visit to a DIY almost more than clothes shopping! As my work is very repetitive and essentially quite controlled, I had to find a way to relax and allow for a more energetic mark-making which is when I began to use a power drill to draw with (a few years ago). This also led to an element of performance in my work which I enjoyed. There is always an element of surprise when the drill goes off and ‘takes over’. I have meanwhile moved back to the more rigid repetitive lines, but as I work on wood using the sander allows for another element of uncontrolled mark-making.

AMM: What is your process of working? 

HD: I prepare the plywood boards with acrylic and gesso before I begin the act of drawing. I will start with a first layer of graphite pencil lines which is usually repeated several times, and sand the panel back again and again in-between the process of mark-making. I usually finish with a final layer of graphite lines. The hard pencils act like a sharp needlepoint allowing the lines to incision and carve into the wood – a sculptural element that intrigues me – rather than lay on the surface. The sanding back allows me to remove any signs of a brushstroke, so that the only texture is the graphite lines.

AMM: Your work is very labour intensive. Does the notion of repetition have a conceptual as well as practical resonance in your work? 

HD: There is something very satisfying about the repetition of the lines. Conceptually, the lines and the layering remind me of what is a growing importance for artists: the access to social media and the digitised images on a screen. In a way, it could be compared to the palimpsest, a technique used with old manuscripts. Thus, the revealing and concealing which is achieved by the compulsive method of layering has become a pivotal part of my process.

AMM: Your work has a very muted but considered colour palette. What influences and informs you stylistically? 

HD: I am happiest with as little colour as possible, as an expression of serenity, and when I use more vibrant colours (which is decided often by how I feel emotionally on the day), I often find myself covering the work with a milky wash. This is also why in most cases the last part of my work is another layer of graphite lines which then reduces the colour again. If it is still too much, I remove parts off it with a sander. This helps to bring it back to what I now consider the ‘zero’ zone – an expression taken from the Group Zero or Group 0. The name refers to the countdown for a rocket launch and according to the group is meant to evoke ‘a zone of silence [out of which develops] a new beginning’. (

AMM: What ideas are you currently exploring in your work?

HD: Due to my forthcoming solo exhibitions (and a later one in 2019), to which I am really looking forward to, I have been extensively playing with installation ideas. I am drawn to the walls of the gallery space as a blank canvas to paint or draw on and to carefully ‘orchestrate’ the space so that the works are connected with or reflecting off each other (as commented above). I have also traced back to my original roots/training as a sculptor and made several objects which are either wall-based or three dimensional – in which the drawings/paintings act as a focal point in space. This answers also your question about how I install my work for viewing.

AMM: Where do you look for daily inspiration?

HD: The inspiration can be anything, but it is often a subtle colour coat chosen randomly and applied to the board that begins the drawing process. The moment I have applied the first layer of graphite lines I have an idea of where it is going, and if not I put the work down and prepare another board. Inspiration often comes from words or conceptual ideas I read about, but I think because I am process driven, the process is what I begin with and then the ideas evolve. I spend a lot of time just looking at my work deciding whether it is finished and works for me or if it requires more attention. I am strangely inspired by writings about the process of algorithmic ideas or formula despite not being able to make much sense of it. Artists that inspire me are Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt, Kasimir Malevich, Cy Twombly, Raoul de Keyser, Richard Tuttle and more recently Robert Ryman.

AMM: What’s next for you? 

HD: I have two solo exhibitions coming up soon, and am particularly excited about ‘In The Zero of Form’ at One Paved Court, Richmond in June. I feel very inspired by the beautiful space and for the first time have made site-specific works. I am also looking forward to curating an exhibition there in September. Another exciting opportunity happening in July is my participation in ‘Em cada linha um traço, em cade fio uma drama (In Each Line a Trace, in Each Thread a Net)’, an exhibition curated by TerraArte Gallery at Villa Aymoré Gallery, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2019 I will be showing at Arthouse1, London with a friend of mine to which I am also looking forward as the lovely gallery owner Rebecca suggested to once again use the space like a blank canvas and ‘go wild’. Not that this would necessarily be the nature of my work but having the freedom to use the space without a strict curatorial concept is exciting!

Find out more about the artist:

Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.

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