Photo courtesy of Joseph Davis Studios.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Davis Studios.

People of Boone: App grad’s exploration of identity, art and self-expression

From identity to queer culture to the exploration of raw emotion, one App State graduate is painting the beauty of the human experience. 

Hannah Little, a 2023 App State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Studio Art, dives into the inspiration behind her artwork, her personal journey and the multitude of intersectional themes behind her thought-provoking pieces. 

Little is influenced by a variety of artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Raymond Pettibon and Frida Kahlo, as well as personal influences like her friend Lauren Collins. Collins, a fellow App State graduate, also majored in studio art and became a tattoo artist in Asheville. 

Collins helped her fully embrace being abstract and to take notice of micro details. 

“Looking at nature and understanding organisms and how the smallest details in the world can be so beautiful if you just give it a second,” Little said. 

Little’s parents introduced her to the art world at a very young age and she embarked on her personal artistic journey in high school. Little began experimenting with unconventional techniques in a small dorm room during her freshman year of college, including throwing dirt and taking a blowtorch to her canvases.

 “I was just really scrappy and weird with it,” Little said. She said she feels that art should be very explorative and fun. 

“I think living as an artist is just being as honest as possible, as weird as possible too,” Little said. “It’s taking references from your own life and creating almost like a collage of those experiences.” 

Little shed light on her creative process, collecting her ideas during long drives or through reflecting in a quiet space. Her preferred mediums are painting and printmaking using linoleum cuts. Regarding her paintings, she focuses on really bold colors and vibrancy.

Little’s art encompasses a myriad of insightful concepts. She said across all of her artworks there is a focus on identity, queerness, honesty and protest. Much of her work critiques political and societal issues, but also includes “beauty within the world and vibrancy that’s often covered up by sometimes how dirty and hard this world can be,” she said.

Little emphasized her favorite piece “Triggered Pleasure,” depicting a gun and vibrator, representing the political dichotomy between gun violence and restrictions, women’s healthcare and freedom of sexuality and liberation. She said it confronts the viewer in terms of their beliefs and how it’s up to them to interpret it for themselves. 

For professional exposure, Pop Up Boone helped kick start her career and her understanding of the retail and selling aspect of being an artist, she said. A significant project to Little was her involvement in Lavender Mountain, an exhibition featuring the work of queer Appalachian artists at the Visual Arts Exchange gallery in Raleigh. She said being in a professional gallery for one of the first times was life changing.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Davis Studios.

Little has utilized her art, especially painting, as an alchemical way to grapple with life’s complexities.

“There is a self-healing aspect with it, it’s like solving a puzzle,” Little said.

It has been a coping mechanism for Little, an outlet for her personal life, mental health and trauma. 

“When I was younger I used to be really depressed coming from a divorced family at a very young age, I would just make these tiny little clay figurines and I would always get excited about them,” Little said. 

Some of her art confronts purity culture and its impact, much of it reflecting her traumatic experiences growing up in a patriarchal society, in the south as a queer woman. Particularly, receiving negative comments about her body and feeling devalued throughout her life. Art provided her a space to create a voice for herself and to speak on those issues. 

“It heals a little bit of that part, that I’ve been so angry for such a long time,” Little said.

Her utilization of art as a tool for processing her mental health has provided her with a new route and future plan.

“It helps me get through a lot of trauma that I just never really uncovered. So it kind of led me to where I am now, where I want to go get my masters degree in psychology and become an art therapist,” Little said. 

Some social movements are woven within her pieces including the legalization of gay marriage, the Women’s March and being immersed in queer culture from a young age. 

Little’s involvement in drag culture herself and becoming a drag king part time was a creative space and tool for her to express her sexuality and confidence and became a form of empowerment. 

She spoke of her involvement with the Haus of Liqueur and how it shifted her art.

“Being in a creative queer collective and being around so many awesome and talented people helped me spread my wings to where I am now and I’m so thankful for that experience,” Little said. 

Little is also a part of the Nth Gallery community where she has created her dream space splattered with colors, plants and reflective decor. 

“The Nth Gallery has been such a supportive space for creatives of different age range, you have people who have been here their whole life and college students, and people who are just living up here making art,” Little said. 

“Ink and Identity,” a solo exhibition held in December, was a mixture of her honors thesis and capstone project. An exploration into girlhood, queerness and horror, the exhibit consisted of around 13 pieces created within a 4-5 month period. 

Little acknowledged the anxiety and challenges she faced throughout the creative process. However, her diligence paid off, proving her capability and understanding of the process behind pulling off such a vast body of work in a short period of time. 

As an artist, some complexities for Little involved a sprinkle of self-doubt. She often faced skepticism about her work.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Davis Studios.

“When I started getting my art degree, oftentimes from relatives I would hear ‘how are you going to make money with that?’ Or ‘how are you going to be sufficient?’” Little said. 

She talked about her former apprehension about how being an artist can be daunting and takes vulnerability.

“I was nervous about showcasing my true identity and my true self and what other people would think about that,” Little said. “When having a show or work displayed I love having people not know who I am.”

To her, this is one of the best things about being an artist. 

 Little has found great value in being a fly on the wall and hearing a variety of opinions about her work.

“I love hearing even the bad comments too. I like hearing unfiltered opinions. I think those are truthful,” said Little. 

Little’s work reaches all corners of the Boone community, even those who aren’t as exposed to the topics she showcases in her work. She hopes they simply reflect and examine. 

Little is currently working at an art gallery in Foscoe and is also a web designer assistant for Cheap Joes. 

As Little gets ready to start a summer teaching position in Raleigh focused on discovery and printmaking to first and third graders, she still aspires to keep exploring queer identity, womanhood, girlhood and the horror genre, she said. Actively saving up for her first printing press, she aims to get her work out there, build her studio, gain experience and hopefully move to the West Coast. 

 Little encourages aspiring artists to speak their truth, be unafraid, look for long term goals and to trust that “everything will happen.” 

Little’s best friend, Skylar Walker, described her as a bright, good-spirited and welcoming person who inspires others to be their most authentic selves. 

Walker has watched Little blossom and become more open and fearlessly self-expressive, she said.

“She does more of what she wants to do, not what society is pushing her to do,” Walker said.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Davis Studios.

Some of Little’s pieces contain sexual concepts and Walker commends her for how raw and unedited they are.

“People are afraid of those kinds of sexual concepts and she’s not, she’s very open with her sexuality,” Walker said. 

Walker said she thinks people need to be a bit more like Little, expressive about sex and how they want to feel.

 A tidbit Walker shared about Hannah and her work encompassed Hannah’s intent to touch her audience and have them question and explore their own interpretations.  

 “I would just say, look at the piece and look at her and let your emotions take you wherever you want them to take you because I think that’s her point in her art. She wants you to feel something and even if it’s not what she feels, she wants you to feel your own way about it.” 

Walker spoke of how deeply she respects Little for her personhood, not just her art.

“If anyone has the pleasure of meeting her they should appreciate it because she is just a light to a lot of people. And I think that’s a really odd thing to see nowadays and she’s one of those odd things,” Walker said. 

Another close friend, Caleb Hignite, said “She uses her art to express herself in ways that words simply can’t. Everything from her queer identity, to femininity, to heavy emotions.” 

She’s grown from and embraced frustration from difficult life situations, he said.

“She inspires me every day, and I’m so thankful and so blessed to have one of her pieces on my wall, a cloth-print skull design,” he said. 

He said her talent comes from a collectivist and humanist perspective, and her art communicates a wholly unique perspective on what it means to be an adult in the 2020s. 

He spoke of her ability to adapt to any atmosphere perfectly.

“We instantly became soulmates when we hung out the first time,” Hignite said. “She is a beautiful soul with an uplifting energy, her sense of humor and her empathy has truly made my life a beautiful one since she entered my life.”


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    CalebMar 6, 2024 at 2:10 pm

    Wow these are such great pieces! How utterly delectable!