I am a realist painter with a focus on light, shadow, composition and abstract design. I try to simplify detail to create a more impressionistic feeling to my realism. – Peter Hahn
By Irene Ruddock
Peter Hahn has painted in watercolor for over 35 years. Known for his bold style with clean, luminous works that exhibit his mastery of the medium, the artist has shown his painting in exhibits in New York City, Long Island and Connecticut, winning awards in almost every show he ever enters. Locally, the Port Jefferson resident shows with the Setauket Artists, Gallery North, Deepwells Mansion, the Art League of Long Island and Guild Hall.
How did you get interested in painting?
At age 5, I was drawing Disney characters and learned drawing from John Gnagy’s “Learn to Draw” kit. Years later, when I was in high school with the late Joe Reboli (Reboli Center for Art and History), I found out that we both started with that same Gnagy drawing kit. I worked in linocuts and woodcuts for many years, but after a visit to Joe’s studio where I watched him paint, Joe encouraged me to stop woodcuts and to start working in watercolor.
Why do you prefer to work with watercolor?
I like the transparency and glow of watercolor on handmade paper. On location, called en plein air, it is quick to set up, not messy at all. All you need is water! I enjoy painting in oil and acrylics too, but I basically consider myself a watercolor painter.
You are known in Port Jefferson for years of volunteer work providing the art for the high school prom. Tell us about that.
Yes, when my daughter was a senior, my ex-wife volunteered me at a prom meeting to become the head of design and construction! Designing the prom was such an exhilarating challenge. I loved the camaraderie that all the volunteers developed using acrylic house paint to cover 10,000 square feet of cardboard and plywood.
What was your favorite prom theme?
My favorite theme was Manhattan Magic. I walked all over the city to get my inspiration. We painted a 36-foot by 96-foot piece of plywood for the whole skyline of Manhattan! I designed, and the construction team built, a replica of the 59th Street Bridge for the students to walk over to enter the prom. The lobby was Central Park, the gym was the theater district and the food court was Sardi’s and Tavern on the Green. Every year we came up with a new theme!
I learned that you are contributing a painting to Mather Hospital’s new wing. Tell us about that.
Because the theme for the new wing is Wonders of Nature, I intend to paint a Niagara Falls view with acrylic on plywood. I am in awe of the majesty of the falls, so I hope this “natural wonder” will create a healing effect for cancer patients.
I know that you follow many artists of the past, often traveling to visit their homes or museums that display their work. Who are the artist you most admire?
My role models are Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. I learned watercolor techniques such as color lifting, dry and wet brush and mixing colors from Homer. I was thrilled to see Homer’s paintings in person at the 150th anniversary exhibit of his birth at Yale. From Sargent, I learned his technique of painting with one stroke to create something so the painting is not overworked. Hopper inspired me to have an abstract design to my realism. Finally, I was fascinated by Wyeth’s egg tempura techniques and studied one of my favorite paintings “The Night Sleeper.” Here the incredible light came only from the moon. All these and other artists inspire me to stay loose and impressionistic.
You paint many commissions. How difficult is it for you to interpret and then create what the person envisions?
By getting to know them and talking to them I get to understand their desires. Often my clients give me a series of photographs and I make detailed sketches before I begin.
Can you give us an example of commissions that you painted that met yours and the person’s goals?
Yes, one was a triptych on 300-pound, full-sized watercolor paper depicting a panoramic view of Port Jefferson. Another is a view of Mount Misery Point in Port Jefferson.
I understand you recently retired. How do you intend to spend your time?
I hope to paint as much as possible and perhaps to teach a few classes.
What is the best advice you can give a student about the art of watercolor?
I would say study all the books you can get on watercolor technique and watch videos by artists such as Tom Lynch. Go to museums to become inspired! Keep doing quick sketches en plein air. If interested in my work or my future classes, you may reach me at [email protected] or call or text me at 631-433-3721.
Images courtesy of Peter Hahn