It’s easy to see where artist Lisa Johnston Hancock’s concerns originate. It’s an hour north of Mobile, where rural seclusion spawned reflection.
“My thesis show for graduate school was based on our property, our land that’s been in our family a long time, in Leroy. Just kind of walking through the forest there and our connection to the land and all the families that had lived on the land since the 1920s,” Hancock said.
Those deep ties bear an innate link with the natural world. The sensibilities they generate are evident in her July exhibit at Mobile Arts Council’s “Inner Transcendence” exhibit.
“It shows our connection to our environment and this feeling you get when you’re out in the forest, especially at sunset or sunrise … there’s something just so magical,” Hancock said.
The show’s watercolors display varied ecosystems, wetlands and woods contained within the silhouettes of people and animals. There are turtles, falcons, children, quail, owls and turkeys. Rarity is an emphasis, such as with the cerulean warbler, a bird whose numbers are falling faster than any other warbler in the nation.
“The peregrine falcon — I used a forest theme with warm tones that almost looks like the forest is burning. It’s actually sunset and just goes with the color scheme I chose. I wanted the peregrine to be sort of molding into its environment, disappearing, reappearing, since they’re threatened in our area,” Hancock said.
When Artifice spoke with Hancock, she had about a dozen of the watercolors ready but was still trying to complete more before they are due for hanging. Her opening reception isn’t until July 14, but she has business on the West Coast the week beforehand.
Hancock and writer Meggan Haller will be in Los Angeles to pitch a collaborative children’s book titled “Night Owl.” It took the artist nearly two years, by her estimate, to produce the 30 illustrations well-suited to her avian proclivities.
“The owl flies through most of the book and stops and talks to different birds — like, he meets a peacock and the peacock fans his high-fashion feathers and the owl wasn’t chic because he just has grey and white feathers. And he meets the stork and the stork is so tall but he doesn’t have that height because barn owls are small,” Hancock described.
The owl learns to appreciate his unique capabilities suited for silently sailing through the luminous moonlight while the other birds sleep. For kids who crave identification or value, the importance is apparent.
“I have one small connection with someone at a publisher so I’m at least going to try and go shake their hand,” Hancock said. Appropriately enough, that publisher is Penguin.
Hancock didn’t hone her skills in Leroy. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Alabama, then headed abroad with a New York University program in Madrid. A few years later she earned her MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design.
Not long after her 2006 graduation she was in the Azalea City helping curate the Mobile Museum of Art’s impressive “Generation X: Post Boomers of the South” show. She’s filled adjunct positions at the University of South Alabama and taught classes at MMoA. Before long she’ll be teaching a class at the newly opened Marnée’s Studio but it took something more generational to bring a notable change.
“I used to just work primarily in oils and mixed media; then, when I had children, I couldn’t really do that because they get into everything. I switched to watercolor and it works well with what I can accomplish in the short amount of time I have during the day and at night,” Hancock laughed.
Those kids figure large in this new show. The silhouettes of children are drawn from them, a tie into Hancock’s wishes for their personal futures and the world they’ll inhabit.
Her fascination with exploring that larger world is abundant. Proximity to family means kids can stay with grandparents while Hancock and her husband find adventure.
Her excitement spilled forth when she talked about exploring tidal pools in the Pacific Northwest and the lushness of temperate rainforests. Points north beckoned, too.
“We just got back from the Seward area, Glacier Bay and the Kenai Peninsula, with Alaska Wildlife Adventures in Kenai National Refuge and it was amazing. It took some getting used to because it was so much cooler than here but once we did it was tough to come back to the humidity. It’s like a real slap in the face,” she laughed.
Roots are hard to sever, though.
“Our family’s here so we’re not going anywhere,” Hancock said.