Interview with The York Flyer
Portraiture, a recognised art form in its own right, so much so that the genre has whole galleries devoted to it, not least the National Portrait Gallery in London, where our artist of the month has set her sights.
I came across the work of Hannah Ostapjuk very recently when visiting an exhibition held in the Cemetery Chapel in Fishergate. The chapel, a beautiful space ideally suited to art exhibitions, was full of excellent paintings and sculptures but on this occasion it was Hannah’s work that ‘leaped out’ at me and I wanted to find out more. Kindly Hannah interrupted her full on schedule to speak to me about her work at her small studio in Barmby Moor. Although only 24 she has quickly established a name for herself as a portrait painter and already has a waiting list for commissions. When I saw the care and attention she puts into each one it is easy to see why she has been designated official portrait painter for several grand establishments. In the case of Leeds University she has taken over this role from Henry Mee who has a list of distinguished sitters as long as the proverbial arm, these include the Queen, the entire royal family including Princess Diane, Melvin Bragg, Richard Branson and any member of the establishment you can think of.
Flyer: Hannah thank you for talking to the Flyer. When did your love of art begin and why portraiture in particular.
Hannah: I was always drawing as a child, anything but especially animals. I won a competition in my early teens for drawing an elephant and was awarded the prize by David Shepherd. My parents were also very encouraging. My mum was a teacher and she knows how important it is to be encouraged and praised for art. My dad was also a great help he has a draughtsman’s eye and always made sure I had enough materials. When I was older I began to draw people.
Some faces I find fascinating. Recently there was a beautiful woman in Whistles, in Leeds, she was a sales assistant I just walked up to her and asked if I could paint her – after she had finished serving a customer. To my surprise she was completely up for it as she did a bit of modelling already. She thought I was mad but she came along and was perfect.
Flyer: I saw an incredible portrait of yours on your website. It is the back of a girls head and the detail of the hair is astonishing it must have taken ages.
Hannah: I know the one you mean, ‘Girl with Plaited Hair’. It is of my sister and yes it took ages. All my work takes a long time though because I use a technique called chiaroscuro. This is using light and shade and browns and involves a lot of wiping and redrawing to build an accurate foundation for the portrait.
Flyer: Where did you study?
Hannah? I became really interested in art when I was a pupil at King James School Knaresborough. They have an excellent art department there and I was really encouraged to continue with it at college. I did a portrait of my Headmaster and it is on the school wall. I am very proud of that. After that I went to study at the University of Leeds. It was at Leeds where I also learned the value of doing volunteer work. I taught art to teenagers and young adults who were suffering from cancer and it was a wonderful feeling to see how they responded. Being able to draw instils so much confidence in a person. I wish there was more time teaching it in schools. I find adults who take drawing classes always surprise themselves and their friends and family.
Flyer: I saw your work in the Cemetery Chapel where else can your work be seen?
Hannah: I presently have two pictures in the Mercer Gallery at Harrogate. Also I have a website – hannahostapjuk.org and Facebook page which shows many of my drawings. Please have a look when you have the time.
Flyer: You now have a baby daughter Hannah, little Destiny. Is she showing an interest in art?
Hannah: I would like to think so she seems to spend a lot of time looking at the faces, watching me and trying to help me. I would like to do a lot of portraits of her but she is not very good at sitting still for long so quick drawings have to do instead.
Flyer: For someone so young it is great that you have a waiting list of people wanting their portraits painted. If this is now where would you see yourself in a decade or two time?
Hannah: I will always be learning and hopefully improving. It would be wonderful to visit some of the world’s great art galleries in the meantime.
Flyer: Thank you Hannah and good luck in all your endeavours.