Tatiana Hassan is a dancer, jeweler, painter, wire sculptor, writer, and ball of seemingly inexhaustible energy. When I met her in East Falls, at the private gallery where she practices her myriad crafts, the petite Colombian-born, Paris-and-Philly-educated Renaissance woman immediately began speaking in rapid-fire language about the sense of whimsicality that guides her work. Although she has logged fifteen years of experience as a dancer, she has put aside choreography for the time being to focus her creative energies on jewelry, digital art, and wire trees, all of which will be available to buy at this year’s Art for the Cash Poor (June 3-5, 2016).
Mikhail: What inspires your art?
Tatiana: I see emotions as images. I think in images. It’s easy for me to express an emotion with an image. My art is a symbolic expression of my experience. I like this surrealist way of expressing myself, like you’re in a dream. I painted when I was younger, but dance became my main focus. I graduated from Temple with a Master in Choreography. When I came to Temple, I was really exploring what I was becoming. You have cycles in life. And I’m entering a whole new cycle, and being at Temple was like a bridge of understanding. Before that, I was so confused about my identity, about everything. And at Temple I learned who I was, as a person and as a spirit. And that’s when I started working on the fairies and trees.
Mikhail: You did this after you graduated?
Tatiana: Yes, it was six months after. After I graduated from Temple, I was like I’m done, I can’t stand this, I’m so tired. I worked without stop for three years. And the thesis concert with all those things…
Mikhail: That must’ve been a lot of work, between the sets, the costumes, the choreography…
Tatiana: Yeah, and I did most of the stuff myself. So I was exhausted. It was a great experience, but I had to give it a rest. But then I was like what do I do with my life? And then I started making this very whimsical, detailed jewelry, much like my dance.
Mikhail: That’s funny because that’s how I described it in my interview notes. I wrote: “Your jewelry seems of a piece with your dance, very whimsical and fun but also surprisingly intricate and detailed.”
Tatiana: (laughs) And that’s the fun thing about me. Everything I make reflects exactly who I am.
Mikhail: It’s fun and spontaneous but also measured and planned.
Tatiana: Whether I’m painting or making mandalas or even making a piece of jewelry or dance, I am so present in that moment. It’s all about choice, the next thing you do is always choosing, you’re choosing what’s next, it’s not like wow I’ve got this great idea, I’m going to do that, it’s like here’s what I’m feeling or what I’m envisioning. There’s a concept formed in your mind, but as you go you see change. It’s like life, you don’t really control it. I feel like I’m a channel for these changes. When I’m making jewelry, I feel like I’m talking to the wire, and the wire talks to me. I’m always asking it: “What do I do next?”
Mikhail: Have you always drawn inspiration from the fantasy world?
Tatiana: I’ve always felt connected to this magical world. It’s part of my personality that I’m very interested in. It’s all about nature: flowers, butterflies, vines. When I was little, I would draw vines on everything. Vines were my thing when I was little.
Mikhail: Did your parents have a garden?
Tatiana: I grew up in a rural part of Colombia. So I was close to mountains, trees. We had lots of animals. We even had one animal, we didn’t know what it was. That’s how weird it got. I grew up in a farm that was about twenty minutes from the city. And that’s how I lived until I was twenty years old, which is when I moved to Paris.
I stayed there for ten years, and that’s where I started studying and working in dance. I painted before that, but I pretty much abandoned it when I started dancing. And I definitely felt a bit of a void in my life. So, when recently I had the opportunity to paint this fairy, I was thrilled to explore that aspect of my artistry again. I love those legends. I love the Shakespeare plays. I’m very into that whimsical aesthetic. I’ve been described as a whimsical character. I put humor in everything. People might frown on some of my work, but I like pretty things, I like positive things. I explore a dark side in some of my work, but even that stuff is very colorful. There’s darkness, but there’s always a glimmer of hope, a window of light.
Mikhail: You have a diverse skill set. What compels you to work in so many different disciplines?
Tatiana: I think this comes from the fact that I don’t like monotony. My dad is the same way. I have that in my DNA. I could never be in a tenured position, something that’s always the same. I’ll go very deep into one thing, and then I’ll jump out of it. I feel like God gave me all these gifts, and I can’t stick to one. I can’t stay put, I’m like a butterfly. But I finish everything. Start-to-finish, that’s how I operate.
Mikhail: Tell me about your mandala art.
Tatiana: It started as therapy. I knew a Reiki master, and she taught me mandala to take my crazy energy and focus it. It took me two years to really accomplish this. The whole process of the Mandala really teaches you about yourself. The beauty of it is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. You start with a blank page and lines, and you start making choices, and the result is a reflection of yourself, your masculine and feminine energy. It teaches you how to see yourself. As you practice it, you become more aware of your thought process.
Mikhail: Do you have any upcoming events that you want us to share?
Tatiana: I’m teaching Mandala Drawing on May 8 at The Art of It in Jenkintown. I’m also teaching Jewelry Making May 13 and May 20 at Bekky’s Village Workshop in Peddler’s Village. I’ll be selling my work at various art fairs: South Street Festival, Chestnut Hill Home & Garden, Trenton Avenue Festival…
Mikhail: And of course you’re going to be at Art for the Cash Poor…
Tatiana: Of course I’m going to be at Art for the Cash Poor!
Mikhail: Have you participated in it before? Have you heard anything about it?
Tatiana: This is my first time, but I’ve heard it’s a really great event, where people can really appreciate art, and where they can afford it!
Mikhail: What are you planning to sell there?
Tatiana: Pretty much everything. I’ll be selling my trees, jewelry, paintings. I’m really looking forward to it!
Art for the Cash Poor 2016 is June 3 – 5 at Crane Arts, with a Kickoff Party Friday, June 3, 5:30 – 9 pm that doubles as a fundraiser for the AIDS Fund. Tickets for the Kickoff can be purchased here. The weekend event is free and open to the public and runs Saturday and Sunday, June 4 – 5, noon – 6 pm.