Hanna Lee Joshi expresses the emotional intelligence of her rich internal world through color. Her relationship with intense hues bloomed at the tail end of a major depression in 2017, when she turned to intuition to explore new combinations. “I found that I saw life in more vivid colors,” she said.
Overcoming obstacles is nothing new for Hanna—she was only 12 when her entire family immigrated to Canada from Korea. It was a critical age to experience a language barrier, but planted the seeds needed to develop a powerful visual language of her own, one that didn’t rely on words to be understood.
Her commitment to self-mastery continued into adulthood, when she was diagnosed with Graves disease, an auto-immune disorder that overproduces thyroid hormones. She took the opportunity to slow down, listen to her internal needs, and shift gears. She replaced her workload as a storyboard artist with her own therapeutic art. She healed a lifelong disease through several years of patience and research…and kicked open the door for gallery shows and personal recognition in the process.
How would you describe your childhood?
Normal, awkward, clumsy, happy, displaced, lonely and also carefree. I felt a lot of growing pain as everyone does.
What were your first “creative” memories?
It wasn't my first creative memory but had such an impact on me. My mom took me along to her clay class and she was making this violin clock. I got to see the process and the final product. It felt like magic. Making something out of nothing.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Korea and came to Canada when I was in Grade 6. My whole family immigrated here. I think it was really hard on me since I didn't speak any English and was at that critical age approaching adolescence. It also didn't help that I was painfully introverted and awkward. It was a challenge overcoming language barriers and growing into the person I am.
When did your relationship to color first begin? How would you describe your relationship to color now?
It really started when my first major depression eased in 2017. I found that I saw life in more vivid colors. I read a while ago that when you are depressed, your perception of color may decrease. I started using intense hues and color combinations that were new to me. I am still learning a lot about color and light. I work intuitively and study what worked, what didn't.
Which mediums do you love? Which do you feel resistance toward?
I love the feel of paper. It's a delicate material but it brings me back to my childhood of using paper and color pencils. I feel resistant towards canvas. I still haven't figured out how to work with its natural texture but I'm trying to enjoy the process of learning.
How do you choose your color palette? What is the process like?
This varies quite a lot. Sometimes I work very intuitively with my color choices. Allowing combinations to flow without too much thinking. Other times I am seeking specific outcomes like iridescent sheens and that can dictate color choices.
What are some major road marks on your path to becoming an independent artist?
It all started when I got ill with Graves’ disease and I had to reduce my work as a storyboard artist. Over the course of 4 years, I took less and less of storyboard work and explored creating my own work as a therapeutic outlet. I did a mural for VMF (Vancouver Mural Festival) in 2018 and that helped my work to be seen by a new audience. Being part of Booooooom! 10th year group show was also a major catalyst towards doing more gallery shows.
What is Graves disease? How did it impact you?
Graves disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes your thyroid to overproduce thyroid hormones. The thyroid regulates a lot of how the body works and it wreaks total havoc on the system when it is out of balance. It was a very slow recovery and involved a lot of research and patience to not be stuck with it permanently. It forced me to take a good look at my life.
Was there a moment where you felt things “took off” for you?
Constantly iterating on making my figures was the biggest reason for the breakthrough in finding my voice and style. I don’t think it was just one moment but more of a gradual journey.
You draw upon inner exploration for much of your work. Can you describe some of your methods and techniques?
It starts with journaling. Writing down my days, my thoughts, my feelings. I try to boil that into sketches. Sometimes I draw organically and let my hands make whatever marking it wants. Other times I get obsessed with one type of pose so I make an iteration until I feel that it's ready and represents some part of what I want to express.
Which aspects of yourself do you reveal most through your art?
I have a strained relationship with language and I often cannot find words to express myself. I would love to think that it can be expressed through my work.
What are some of the major life experiences behind your work?
Moving to Canada, finding my voice, falling in love, spirituality, family and friends. I think it's the accumulation of small experiences that become life’s big themes and they have all contributed to my process.
Which tools do you find most useful for battling insecurity?
What sometimes works for me is to say out loud what I am grateful for. Get off social and go for a walk. But honestly I’m always battling it.
How do you express self-love?
I’m still learning to. I suppose I express it through my work. I try to nourish my body, I read lots and stay curious, sometimes I do loving kindness meditation.
What are some of your favorite books?
I am a big fan of sci fi books. I love Octavia E. Butler's books especially the Xenogenesis Trilogy, Ted Chiang’s Exhalation: Short Stories, and I'm Waiting For You: And Other Stories by Bo Young Kim. I enjoy books that use sci-fi as a vehicle to explore themes that are abstract and grand yet deeply relatable to the human experience.