Hannah Bigeleisen lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In 2019 she transitioned from a full-time teaching job to launching her design business. We've fallen in love with her playful, architectural lighting series, Archi, which comprises of hand-painted patterned papier-mache surfaces, paired with hand-dyed and knotted silk fringe shades. We had the pleasure of finding out more about Hannah's background and the inspiration behind her work - read on to see the interview!
Images by Daniel Cochran & Seth Caplan
Please introduce yourself - where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I grew up in a lot of different places, my family moved around a lot when I was a kid. Moving taught me a lot, like how to look for similarities and how to adapt to where we were as a family. We lived in Pittsburgh, PA, St. Paul, MN, Atlanta, GA, Anchorage, AK, but spent most of our time as a family in Rochester, NY. I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, OH for my BFA and moved to Brooklyn, NY after I graduated. I have lived and worked in Brooklyn since.
What is your background? How did you start creating your sculptures?
I studied Drawing when I was an undergraduate student at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and got my MFA in Printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design. Even in these traditionally 2D mediums I always explored ideas of dimensionality and space while pushing the inherent sculptural properties of paper. Paper exists somewhere between a rigid, planar surface and a fluid textile. That being said, my background in drawing and printmaking definitely influences my current work in sculpture and lighting design.
You use various materials in your work, but mainly create from papier mache - how do
you decide on the material you'll use and what do you like about papier mache?
Some projects are material specific, such as client projects or custom requests. As an artist and designer I think it is really important to develop a vast library of material knowledge and working properties - it allows me to push the boundaries of my own ideas and get outside of my comfort zone while learning how to work with new things. Papier-mache is the material that I love working with the most though. It has additive and subtractive sculptural properties, and is super tactile. It is also really fun to mix up a big bucket of it and squish it around!
Who/ what are your biggest influences?
My biggest influences come from my everyday experiences, noticing small details on a daily commute, spending time looking at my plants and studying how they grow, researching and automatic drawing. Two of my greatest inspirations are textiles, specifically handwoven rugs, and architecture - they both have histories rooted in utilitarianism, pattern, standardization, and spatial, tactile beauty.
What themes do you explore in your work?
Space and perception, how the two combined influence how we see and understand the world we live in. Space is political by nature, and that is compounded by the divide between the virtual world and the physical world we live in. In my work, I seek to kind of disrupt the divide by using highly textured or patterned surfaces, colour and materials to draw the viewer into a longer looking cycle to promote visual comparisons.
How do you develop your ideas and what’s your process of working?
Kind of organically, but mostly through play. I keep a shape library in my studio and spend time playing with different arrangements, or thinking about how to divide and combine forms together. I also do a lot of research and reading, largely in art theory and criticism- and when the NYPL (New York Public Library) was open pre-Covid, I loved spending the day in their Arts and Architecture Reading Room looking at books on a variety of topics.
Where do you work from? How do you like to work?
I work out of my studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m self-employed so my mornings start a variety of ways, but I enjoy having a flexible schedule. I think it keeps me nimble in my approach without becoming routinized.
I usually start my morning off with the most delicate or sensitive work I need to complete, usually sculpting forms, developing the painted surfaces, or wiring up finished pieces. I have the most concentration and stillness in the morning, the afternoons alternate between building forms, and research, or drawing, catching up on emails, ordering supplies - all the odds n ends. I love to end my day with friends, readings, book clubs, long bike rides, cold drinks, great dinners, etc.
Hannah's work is available through her website (you can get in touch with her there about customisations too). You'll also find pieces available to purchase through 1stdibs.com.