No stopping the light rail artist

Hannah Quinlivan is a local artist whose work is well known to Canberra commuters. You’ll see her drawings on the glass panels at each light rail stop between Civic and Gungahlin.

Author: Cass Proudfoot Region Media 

Each panel is different and each drawing is inspired by its own location along the rail line.

Light rail art
Each light rail stop is marked by an abstract drawing reflecting the local area. Photo: Hannah Quinlivan.

Brightening up the daily commute

“I really love that people have come to know particular drawings that are associated with the stop close to their home,” Hannah says.

“One person even said ‘the drawings have made her look forward to her morning commute’!”

The process of creating the drawings for each location gave her a deep understanding of each stop on the light rail between Gungahlin town centre and the city.

To prepare the drawings, Hannah spent a lot of time in each of the 13 locations before the light rail project was completed.

“I took photos in each location and just spent time observing how people, traffic, green space, wind and other elements interacted,” she says.

The large abstract drawings on glass are a response to the observations Hannah made in each location.

Ipima St stop
Ipima Street stop. Photo: Hannah Quinlivan.

From the red centre to the bush capital

Canberra is Hannah’s hometown, but she hasn’t always lived here. Like her line art, the artist has taken a winding journey to reach her current position as a working artist in Canberra.

She arrived in Canberra in year three and went to the Orana school in Weston.

“I’ve lived in Canberra on and off ever since. It’s definitely home now,” she says.

Her early years were spent in a remote Aboriginal community which included many painters. She was later drawn back to that region.

“When I left school, I spent a few years back in Central Australia working in the arts,” she says.

“During that time, I decided that I wanted to stay involved in the arts, but it wasn’t until a family illness drew me back to Canberra that I decided to go to art school.”

A proud ANU School of Art alumnus

Four years at the Canberra School of Art taught her technical skills and formal ways of thinking about art.

“The ANU School of Art then – and still now – has a reputation as a school with terrific workshops where you can learn lots of technical skills, as well as conceptual ones. It hasn’t yet been overwhelmed by the deskilling that has transformed other art schools,” she says.

“So I left art school being able to draw, make prints, weld, paint and so on, as well as having been immersed in learning, thinking and talking about art for four years.”

the artist in one of her life size drawings
Transience, 2014 by Hannah Quinlivan installation view with the artist herself. Photo: Diana Rangel.

Making art a full-time affair

Building a career as an artist is hard and, after graduating, Quinlivan was realistic about her options.

“I left art school expecting to go back to my old roles in the art world, facilitating other people’s work in various ways. I didn’t expect to become a full-time artist myself,” she remembers.

But she dedicated herself to an artist’s life for a year or so to see what happened. So far, things are going pretty well.

“I’m still making art as a full-time job nearly 10 years later,” she says.

As well as the light rail drawings, this year you might have seen Hannah Quinlivan’s work hanging above David Jones as part of the annual DESIGN Canberra festival, or hovering over Lake Burley Griffin as part of Contour 556, Canberra’s sculpture biennale.

In these works, drawing becomes three-dimensional, building on the exploration of space in her flat drawings.

thin line sculpture over the lake
Shroud at Contour 556, 2020, aluminium, acrylic and steel. Photo: Hannah Quinlivan.

Like many people, COVID-19 has upset Hannah’s travel plans, but she is finding plenty of opportunities in the local area.

“Canberra’s local art scene is incredibly supportive, and it’s a great place to be based as an artist,” she says.

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