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Debbie Hahn

Art and Design Lecturer

Debbie Hahn

2022 has been a big year for UCOL Te Pūkenga lecturer Debbie Hahn, who was awarded two art prizes.

Born in the USA, Debbie studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, before launching her design career in New York.

"I worked for a range of design firms from small to large, including Saatchi & Saatchi and Smart Design. I created marketing and branding materials for many companies, including IBM, Serengeti Sunglasses, OXO Good Grips, and Joe Boxer watches," says Debbie.

Looking for a new adventure, Debbie decided to travel. While visiting Aotearoa with a friend, she fell in love with New Zealand.

"I spent the next few years figuring out how to move here." 

Her opportunity came when Auckland-based graphic designer Peter Haythornthwaite agreed to take her on. There she was able to work on their award-winning Auckland Zoo project. A dream project, Debbie was privileged to help build a structure similar to an African mud hut in the entrance of the Hippopotamus territory. Unfortunately, a few months after she arrived, the Asian Economic Crisis hit, and new business dried up. So, Debbie asked Petter where the best design school in New Zealand was, and he replied: Whanganui. 

22 years later, Debbie is one of UCOL's talented lecturers with industry experience and an artist in her own right. 

Debbie recently won the first prize for 'Blue Sky Guardian', an experimental artwork for the Works on Paper Award at the 2022 Taranaki National Art Awards. The Judge Dr Chelsea Nichols comments included, "Debbie's work does reference contemporary graphic design as a genre, for us it also seemed to hint subtly at other traditions like the Bauhaus movement, Russian propaganda and early 20th-century tourism. The clean, uncluttered aesthetic, definitive colour combination and intriguing imagery have been combined to make an absolutely captivating work." 


Debbie also received a merit award at the Pattillo Whanganui Arts Review 2022 for her pieces 'Below the Surface' a Photographic artwork. 'Below the Surface' came about after a landslide. "Ever since I was a kid, I liked to play in the mud. When the landslide occurred, I took a page from an old book and dipped it in the mud. It dried, creating amazing cracks that looked like tributaries or a root system under the horizon. I love incorporating chance, serendipity and experimentation in the creative process." 

Judge Dr Chelsea Nichols comments included, 'This is a quieter one, a small piece that I think cleverly grapples with the tradition of the Sublime in painting. Romantic artists during the 19th century often turned to vast skies, epic mountain scapes and powerful seas, to evoke a quality of both great awe and unsettling terror and at the majesty of nature. Instead of looking up into the vast universe, this artist flips that trope on its head, burying deep into the ground to inspire a similar sense of wonder at the vastness of the Earth beneath our feet.' 


During her tenure in Whanganui, Debbie completed her master's in computer graphic design through the then-Whanganui School of Design when it was aligned with Waikato University. 

"Teaching one on one is my favourite. I'm not a big lecture person. I like intimate classes where we get to know students. They realise that we care about them and want them to succeed, follow their dreams and shape their own creative path. I love seeing the creative work they come up with. That's what gets me excited." 

Debbie likes to keep in touch with alumni.

"I like helping each student progress in the direction they want to further their career or for whatever reason they are studying. Many of our alumni have exciting careers, whether teachers, visual artists, or fashion designers around New Zealand or overseas.

Photography has been constant throughout Debbie's life; however, she loves playing with many varied mediums, techniques and natural materials.

"Currently, I'm working with wood creating abstract sticks using oak, I haven't shown anyone yet, but I think they're beautiful.


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