Hannah Murgatroyd’s works are drawn and painted worlds inhabited by protagonists forming an idiosyncratic canon of desire, whose provenance springs from a history of the body told through high art, popular culture and personal narrative.

Hannah's version of the world is one eroticized, ambiguous and engaged deeply with surface.

She talks with Century curator, Leo Babsky.


LB: You are part of the group exhibition, ‘Clay Rendering’ which we currently have on view at Century. 

Your subject matter is seductive and intoxicating but with this exhibition I particularly wanted to examine this really unique way of working you have that sits in a kind of dream state between drawing, painting and sketch, which I feel sometimes gets somewhat overlooked ........ could you elaborate on that ?

 HM: Ultimately I am led by drawing. I've always had a natural ability to capture but it took me many years to accept it.

I didn't start painting until 2009, way after my art education. Once I did, the medium itself allowed me to make cohesive all these disparate aspects of what turned me on, and to take the ambition I had for my images further. For me, painting and drawing and writing are dream states, the inner world as essential as the outer. Although my work appears like it might be planned because of its adherence to figuration, I sink into something low below consciousness to find the images. Always, it's the mark that leads it out. Then consciousness comes into play in the editing process, in the formal conceit needed to make an image work. I often feel closer to artists like Willem de Kooning and Alex Katz than I do narrative painters. If the idea overrides the image I'll discard it.

LB:  You say you sink into something below consciousness to find your images so is there any level of planning at all when you start drawing ?

HM: Not ‘planned’ exactly. Usually I get a vision of something in the corner of my eye. I let the mark lead it out. When I'm making a large painting I might make a loose preparatory drawing but I don't want to know too much of what I might make because the act would become mechanical. In small paintings the image tends to emerge spontaneously.

LB: How important is nostalgia to your practice? Your work has this (on first glance) innocent / naïve / pastoral / comic strip / fairy tale quality - is that intentional?
I think I'm particularly drawn to your work as it reminds me of Asterix Comics from when I was a kid (laughs). 

HM: I look to the past but I'm not nostalgic. I've never believed in the halcyon days, even when I was in them. As a draughtsman, I’m very much into the value of drawing, in seeing parities between say, a Rembrandt ink sketch and a Disney cell animation. I use varying languages of drawing to suit content, to express an art-historical lineage, or character archetype. There isn't a fixed approach, but yes, each approach is intentional.

I didn't really read comics, as the narrative structure didn’t make sense to me but I did  like the drawing - some of my first crushes were cartoon characters. I had a graphic novel phase in the late 90s when I encountered them in a comics store in Minneapolis. I was really into Raymond Carver like everyone is aged 20 and so, for example, Adrian Tomine's melancholy shorts made sense.



LB: Your work strongly reminds me of two quite disparate (and very male artists) : Tom Of Finland and Robert Crumb, are they influences and how do you feel about those two artists ?

HM: I like my perversity candid. It's when it's hidden or denied it becomes dangerous. Crumb and Tom of Finland are great, their draughtsmanship and content encompass the kind of sleazy humour, affection, muscularity and underground intellect that gets me going. I probably find Tom of Finland more erotic but I love how Crumb includes himself as a debased, slavering character ruled by his libidinous tastes. I'm not a Crumb type, my ass and thighs are not big enough. So I guess I'd be safe enough around him (laughs)



LB: Following on from the above your work seems very 'sex- positive', is that something you strive for ?

HM : I was brought up in a way where there wasn’t shame around the body and I never had any shame around sex, although perhaps my mother would have wished I had. ( laughs) So I suppose this would enter the bodies depicted in my work, however it’s not what my work’s about. Desire is more my bag. Up till now my work’s not been about sex specifically but I'm working on a project with Grant Foster where sex and personal narrative may more explicitly rise to the surface.


LB: Your work obviously references many, many periods from art history and often it seems as if you are re-casting female figures from these periods into more positive depictions. Would that be an accurate reading or possibly too contrived or overtly political?

HM: All great artists cannibalise the past. Look at Picasso. From a young age, I never had any sense that anything was forbidden to me in terms of identification so what I do doesn't come from a political stance, but just what's been natural to me all my life.


LB: Also - to move away from art history - which of your contemporaries are inspiring you at the moment ?

HM: Benicio del Toro in Sicario 2. Like, that's how I want to feel in the studio (laughs ) Recently I've met a couple of great artists worth paying attention to for the scale of their ambition and depth of thought and material exploration - Tenant of Culture (Hendrickje Schimmel) and Harriet Bowman, who is based at Spike Island Studios in Bristol where I am.


LB:Any new projects coming up you want to share ?

HM:  I’m in the upcoming Anomie Review of Contemporary British Painting, put together by Matt Price, for my show Landscape As A Peopled World at Exeter Phoenix in 2017. It’s pretty exciting to be sandwiched between Ryan Mosley and Chris Ofili.

LB:Totally exciting ! Thanks for your time Hannah.


Hannah’s work is currently on view in ‘Clay Rendering’ in our Tap Room.

You can follow her on instagram at : @hannah_murgatroyd

Her website is :

You can follow Century’s curator, Leo Babsky, on his instagram at: @lbcuratorial
COVID-19 Century At Home Apply for Membership