Propped against a white wall in the Oak Street Hall Annex is a giant painted canvas. The subject, a thin, pixie-haired woman, stands tall with her shoulders back and chin tilted slightly upward. She’s dressed in an elegant floor-length dress, her hands firm by her sides, fitted in orange-brown boxing gloves.
The painting’s creator is Hannah Aaron, a Lewisville resident and UNT graduate student in the third and final year of her MFA in drawing and painting. Aaron teaches classes at UNT and at Lifestyle Christianity in Watauga. When she’s not teaching, she’s painting. Aaron was a 2018 finalist in XL Catlin, a nationwide exhibition for primarily figurative work, and she’s currently preparing for her own solo exhibition.
Aaron started drawing when she was 3 years old. As a child, she said, she was creating detailed ball gowns while everyone her age drew stick figures.
“It was kind of funny to learn that I was already doing something that I was maybe naturally leaning toward,” Aaron said. “I wouldn’t say I was gifted at [art], because it’s a skill that has to be built, but I definitely had an eye for it.”
In seventh grade, she was enrolled in private art lessons with a friend, but it wasn’t until high school that she realized art was something she could do for the rest of her life. She said she found confidence in her abilities as an artist through her faith and her selection as a state finalist with the National Art Honor Society. She was one of 33 chosen out of 155,000 applicants during her senior year, and the work she submitted circulated around the country for a year.
“I felt like my gifting [in art] or my work was highlighted for some reason,” Aaron said. “I just felt the green light to keep going.”
Aaron works primarily with oil paints. She said she is drawn to their reflective nature, and some reflect light like stained glass. Her style is rendered realistically, but with abstract impressions, and she said she enjoys realism because it helps her to focus on the present.
“What draws me to painting is the ability to transform the image,” Aaron said. “And in a way, it’s a window into another space, another dimension.”
Christian Fagerlund, a Denton resident and senior lecturer of figure drawing at UNT, met Aaron when she was his student during her undergraduate program. He is currently the chair of her committee, where he works with two other committee members to guide and mentor her through the last year of her MFA. He said her years as a master’s student have challenged her artistic process and pushed her to grow in new areas.
“I think what’s unique about her is that her work has a high level of skill and craft, but then has definite conceptual weight and interest behind it,” Fagerlund said. “So it works on both levels.”
Aaron’s friend Hannah Baskin also spoke highly of her work. Baskin, an artist living in Dallas, met Aaron at church about seven years ago. Baskin is the subject of Aaron’s painting of the woman in a dress and boxing gloves, and she said Aaron has improved her craft while at UNT.
“I definitely feel like she’s grown a lot and come into having a more clear voice,” Baskin said.
Aaron was recently confirmed for her thesis exhibition at Umbrella Art Gallery, which will be her first solo show. The exhibition will run from Feb. 1 through March 28. Fagerlund said putting together a solo show requires more than just creating artwork, as artists must also decide how to arrange the pieces in order to elicit a certain response.
“It’s a vulnerable spot to be in,” Fagerlund said. “It’s strange to have so much focus just on you. And often it’s been years of work that has been in the studio, kind of building, and then it’s this kind of explosion of sharing.”
For Aaron, the buildup of work traces back to before her time at UNT and chronicles a near decade-long period in her life. Aaron participated in ballet for nine years and said she felt boxed into rigid expectations regarding femininity. She plans to reclaim those nine years through her exhibition— one side of the rectangular gallery space will be lined with nine paintings of ballet slippers. Mirroring those on the opposite wall will be nine paintings of boxing gloves.
“These thoughts kind of came from a place where I was dealing with a lot of expectation of who I should be as a woman, and some familial patterns and roles, and being expected to do ballet for nine years and to model for three,” Aaron said. “I was just responding to this expectation that I had kind of grown and learned to obey over the years.”
Each of these paintings were completed in one sitting. Aaron said it was important for her to paint all at once so that she could be present and meditate on the meaning behind each piece. Each boxing glove painting took her between five and six hours to complete.
Aaron said she also hopes to include interactive elements in the center of her exhibiton. Her goal is to set up punching bags for people to put paint on boxing gloves and “go at it” prior to the exhibition and then hang them in the gallery. She said it is important to her that all of her work comes from a real place and resonates with her personal life.
“I wanted to paint something that was genuine and authentic,” Aaron said. “For me, I felt like the only way to do that was to paint from my own experience.”
After graduation, Aaron wants to continue working as an adjunct professor. She may have a teaching opportunity at another Christian school in Kentucky. She has goals unrelated to art, too, like running a marathon and having children. Regardless of where her future lies, Aaron is confident she’ll continue to grow as an artist and a person, more sure of herself than the high school senior who first submitted her art.
“I felt like there was this epiphany that I could do this for the rest of my life from that moment on,” Aaron said. “And the rest is just kind of history.”
Featured Image: Hannah Aaron, a third year UNT graduate student, stands in her studio on Sept. 6, 2019. Image by Hope Alvarez