I Always Felt Stuck Between the Art and the Commercial World When Making Jewelry. Interview with Hannah Oatman, Winner of the Klimt02 JPlus Emerging Talent Award 2020

Interview  /  NewTalentsByKlimt02
Published: 10.02.2021
Hannah Oatman Hannah Oatman
Edited by:
Edited at:
Edited on:
Hannah Oatman. Brooch: Collect Me!™ 04: Space, 2019. Laser cut acrylic, cast brass. 9 x 7.5 x 1.5 cm. Photo by: Hannah Oatman. Awarded at: JPLUS Emerging Talent Award 2020 by Klimt02. From series: Collect Me!™. 
. Multiple. Hannah Oatman
Brooch: Collect Me!™ 04: Space, 2019
Laser cut acrylic, cast brass
9 x 7.5 x 1.5 cm
Photo by: Hannah Oatman
Awarded at: JPLUS Emerging Talent Award 2020 by Klimt02
From series: Collect Me!™

© By the author. Read Copyright.

Hannah Oatman, freshly graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, won the 6 edition of the JPLUS Emerging Talent Award by Klimt02. A solo exhibition will be held in Hannah Gallery, Barcelona from 3 to 31 March. In this interview, Hannah talks about the award-winning work and her thoughts behind the project. She also shares opinions on contemporary jewelry and being a jewelry artist today.
Congratulations on winning the JPlus Emerging Talent Award in 2020! Please tell us a bit about yourself and how did you get on the path to contemporary jewelry?
Thank you so much! I fell in love with jewelry by accident—I took a class as an elective and immediately felt like I couldn’t do anything else. Once I became more comfortable with jewelry as a format, I started using it as a means to express my ideas rather than just a way to make objects that I thought were stylish or beautiful, which is how I became more immersed in the world of contemporary jewelry.

You created a Hannah Oatman™ jewelry brand with a collection of brooches in the blind box. A thought-provoking concept about consumer culture is introduced in such an amusing way. How did you think of connecting the concept of the blind box with art jewelry? Do you think there is a similarity between these two collecting behaviors?
Thank you! I came up with the idea for Collect Me! after studying collecting behaviors both in general and in the contemporary jewelry world. I think we artists can get caught up in the romance of our studio practices, but art isn’t really the pure, un-commercialized entity it’s sometimes made out to be, and artists are always selling something—be it their work, their ideas, or their persona.

Hannah Oatman. Brooch: Collet Me!™ 01: Dreamboat, 2019. From series: Collect Me!™. Photo by: Ian Shiver.

I wanted to exaggerate the commercial nature of the art world by directly simulating marketing techniques used in mass-produced products. I always felt stuck between the art and the commercial world when making jewelry, so it felt like the perfect medium for it. I think the idea of the manufactured collectible—which really began with baseball cards—is fascinating. Collectible cards are made out of plastic-coated paper, and yet people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for the most valuable ones. These companies have figured out ways to replicate specialness, desirability, and scarcity and use it to their advantage.
So, what makes contemporary jewelry valuable? Its uniqueness? Its beauty? The artist’s labor? Is it more valuable or less valuable than conventional jewelry? These are all things I played with when making Collect Me!. I wanted to make objects that were both critical and appealing—things that are easy to get excited about and fall in love with, but that can be engaged with on a deeper level if the collector so chooses. I’ve tried to, on some level, do that with all three series in this body of work.

Do you believe there is a connection between the artist and the collector, or consumer? What kind of feedback do you expect when you show your work to the public?
I think there’s definitely a connection. I did a pop-up exhibition for Collect Me! a little over a year ago, and in a way, the whole thing was a performance, but it was also research—if my work is about consumer culture, it isn’t really complete until it’s been sold, so witnessing the moment where a person becomes a collector was really satisfying.
In a way, all art is a self-portrait, so there will always be a connection between the artist and the collector—they are taking something you put yourself into. Still, I’m more focused on getting the collector to bond with the piece itself—that’s why each series in this body of work gives at least a little bit of authorship to the collector: with Collect Me!, you put the brooch together yourself, with Art Over Time you can customize your brooch with your favorite charms, and with Build Your Own you get to choose and buy whichever pieces you like best. I think it’s easier to be seduced by something if you get to participate in it.

Hannah Oatman. Set: Art Over Time, 2020. Month 1 subscription box. Photo by: Ian Shiver.

You have been selected once to participate in this award in 2017 with an enamel jewelry collection. This time you continued to play with colors and forms in your work but introduced a more powerful concept and a complete presentation. Can you explain to us a bit about how your work has been changed?
Yes! I chose to go to RISD for graduate school specifically because I wanted to hone my conceptual skills, so I’m really happy to hear that stood out to you. I think making conceptual work takes practice, and it’s a muscle I’m constantly trying to strengthen.
I’ve always loved playing with color and form, and that’s definitely a through-line between my older and newer work. I think my choices were more intuitive before, and now they’re more deliberate—my old work was expressive, and my current work is communicative. My enamel work was also very process-based: I used fabrication and enameling techniques, both of which I really enjoy. Now, I choose techniques based on what will best serve the work, not necessarily what I would best like to do.

We see some influences of the fine art movements on your work. Which ones are more significant for you? 
The most obvious movement I could connect my current work to is Pop Art since it similarly plays with the line between fine art and commerce. But, I also am very drawn to the humor in Postmodernism. These have definitely influenced my practice, but I do also want my work to reflect the time in which it was made, so I try to draw most of my inspiration from what I see as current trends in the art world, in culture, and in contemporary jewelry specifically.

Hannah Oatman. Brooch: Build Your Own!™, 2020. From series: Build Your Own!™. Photo by: Ian Shiver.

What do you think about self-branding as a jewelry artist?
I think it’s unavoidable—every artist is also a brand, especially now that we’re all expected to create digital content and market ourselves online in addition to making our work. All of the content we create contributes to our brand, whether it’s intentional or not. I used to try really hard to seem like myself when I posted about my work, and now I try to sound like I’m advertising it—in a way, it feels easier and less vulnerable to perform as Hannah Oatman™ the brand. I also like how much more immersive it feels when everything (including packaging, photography, social media, etc) is part of the work rather than all existing separately from each other. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a talented photographer, Ian Shiver, who has helped me push my brand imagery forward and make everything feel cohesive.

After graduating from RISD, how is your career going so far? Do you have any news to share with us?
It’s been an adjustment, especially since I graduated in the midst of a global pandemic! I’ve moved, gotten a day job, and set up my studio at home. I’ve started working on new ideas within this body of work, and I will be exhibiting at the Metal Museum in Memphis in 2023.