Eric Block

Artist hana on ‘Inventing Artist Paints’ – her exhibition of eco-paints made from coconut, fruit and veg

The art world is awash with self-taught painters these days, but the emergence of artist hana (styled in lower case) has taken many by surprise, not only because of her talent but because she has re-invented oil paint. Her paint is made from coconut shells, algae, seaweed, dried fruits and vegetables. All this has caught the eye of Noel Fielding, among others, who is endorsing her ground-breaking innovations.

This week sees the opening of her first solo show, Inventing Artist Paints, at The Boardroom at 50 Brook Street, Mayfair. Eric Block met her to find out more.

You have created a new kind of eco-paint. What was the motivation behind creating this new sustainable formula and how did you first come to use these alternative materials in your work?

Sustainability has always played a big part in my decision-making, however the motivation behind creating the formula was honestly more about our well-being as artists. I have spent years researching food and how to minimise exposure to daily airborne toxins we are exposed to. There are many early accounts of paints being so corrosive, they burnt into wood. Lest we forget Scheele’s green and myriad Victorian wallpaper made with arsenic, sometimes with fatal consequences.

While studying fine art at a summer school in California, I spent a lot of time in art studios where the use of concentrated amounts of paint thinners and turpentine was the norm. I found it difficult to work around such strong odoured paint thinners.

Sagwa Obseoyo, (2020), Oil and edible funghi on linen, 30 x 30 cm

My art teacher insisted I needed paint thinners to create good work quickly. The more I used them the less I wanted to create work. I found myself dreading entering the studio. I remember wearing a face mask (way before Covid) during my Colour Theory labs to avoid the smell of thinners.

My curiosity led me out of the studio and into my kitchen. I started asking crazy questions, like ‘Why can’t I make paint from cinnamon? Cinnamon doesn’t smell like a sewer.’ Months after researching the history of oil paints and pigments, by pure accident, I created a blue-violet colour from Blueberries. This was at the start of lockdown and I had no canvases to hand, so I smeared the mixture on a old linen dress. It was the beginning of a five-month journey as a mad chemist-artist hell bent on creating paints that are sustainable, healthier for artists, and archival.

It has been an exciting process being able to utilise both my chemistry and art knowledge simultaneously for the benefit of painters everywhere.

This is your debut solo exhibition. Have you always painted throughout your life?

My father is a portrait painter; I grew up around art and paintings, although I didn’t pick up painting until 2004, during my first year at university.

What would you like viewers to take away from the show?

There is an inventing station at the show and viewers can interact with the paints. I want to inspire artist and painters who visit the show to think outside the paint tube and experiment with new pigments and materials.

Eco-paints can produce the same level of work that is currently being achieved through conventional paints that are known carcinogens and toxic to some aquatic life.

FIELDING SOARS (2020), Blueberry Oil and Coconut Shells on canvas, 76.2 x 60.9 cm

Part of your work in this exhibition focuses on portraits of well-known faces such as Noel Fielding, Anish Kapoor and Sonia Boyce. What in particular drew you to your subjects?

I am fascinated by geniuses and what drives them. The portraits are part of an ongoing series, ‘portrait of a genius’. The well-known faces in the portraits on view at this exhibition have two things in common: they are artists and they are geniuses. All six well-known faces, in my opinion, are the most influential artists in today’s world; they have all done revolutionary things in art and I find them inspiring.

How do the portraits, horses and inspiring landscapes that will be on display interact with one another?

There is a unifying theme that brings all three types of work together. You’ll have to see it to understand, and if I explained it, it will ruin the experience. It is a unique design that flows throughout the exhibition and is intended to invoke strong emotions in the viewer.

Do you have any future plans you can share?

I am currently studying advanced techniques in coatings technology. In the very near future, I plan to bring a complete set of eco-paints made entirely from food, food waste and plant-based solvents to market. A black paint made from coconut shell waste and a deep green made from seaweed are already in production.


Since her painting was situated directly opposite Hockney’s Blue Hang Cliff, next to John Baldessari’s Blueberry Soup, in March 2020, British painter and artist hana has become one of the most sought-after emerging artists. hana titled this collection Inventing Artist Paints, an exploration of the genius of the artist and a study of scientists who made oil painting possible.

Inventing Artist Paints, The Boardroom, 50 Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 5DR

5 – 12 October 2020; Private View, 5 October, 12pm — 9pm

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