Art We Love: Erin Hanson Sees Nature and Painting Anew

Art We Love

Raised in the deserts of Southern California, Erin Hanson naturally developed an appreciation for the outdoors at a young age. She also took to painting early in life, first experimenting on an easel built by her father, then working for a mural studio by age twelve. Over the decades, Erin has fused her love of the outdoors and painting into an intrepid career. An avid rock climber, Erin finds inspiration traversing and scaling the craggy terrains of the Western United States to capture nature scenes on camera, which she then translates to breathtaking vistas on canvas in her distinct style. 

Dubbed “Open Impressionism,” Erin’s style is a skillful blend of expressionist color palettes, and time-honored Impressionist approaches to light and movement. Marked by impasto brushstrokes and heightened color schemes, her painting style is instantly recognizable. It has also garnered the attention of collectors worldwide and museums across the United States: her work is held in the permanent collections of St. George Art Museum in St. George, Utah; Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut; and La Salle University Art Museum in Philadelphia.

Of her approach, Erin says, “I love playing with color hues to create emotionally impactful landscapes.” She is especially attuned to the emotional valence of colors as they shift throughout the day. “I am most attracted to the colors I see at sunrise and sunset,” she says. “The more vibrant, the better!”

Erin has explored several landscapes throughout her career, but lately, she finds inspiration closer to home. “I have recently been inspired by the California desert, especially the palm oases out there. I just got back from La Quinta, and I went hiking again at the Thousand Palms Oasis. It is incredible to see such vibrant greens and lively signs of vegetation when you are surrounded by a bone-dry desert as far as the eye can see.”

As with all great landscape paintings, perspective is key to the impact of Erin’s works. With this visual tool in her arsenal, she seeks to create transportive encounters with the natural world, as seen in her recent oasis-inspired painting, Palm Fronds. “I love painting the view of looking up into palm trees since it really transports the viewer into a different locale,” she says of the recent painting. “And you can almost see the bright spots of sunlight filtering through the palm fronds, hear the warm desert winds, and feel the desert sand beneath your feet.”

Her process is a fine-tuned mix of spontaneity, intuition, and skillful planning. Using only five primary colors as her base, Erin works methodically to premix each color used in the finished painting before she begins. This careful planning is belied by her quick, confident, impasto brushstrokes, which create lively swaths of color. Unlike in typical approaches to oil painting, Erin does not blend her brushstrokes but lays them side by side. She is careful to avoid overworking the canvas, leaving each brushstroke visible in the finished piece. As to when her meticulous canvases are complete? “[That’s when] the painting jumps out at me with vibrant color and a sense of motion,” says Erin. “I make sure the eye can move freely throughout the painting, not getting trapped or caught up in any one spot.”

Appearing abstract up close and morphing into legible landscapes from a distance, each painting offers something new to discover with each viewing. Their side-by-side brushstrokes have been likened to mosaics, and indeed, unexpected passages of light appear to emanate from each swath of paint, leaking into the surrounding space. A tireless innovator, Erin shows us that there are still new possibilities in the tradition of oil paint, and there’s always beauty to behold in the natural world. 

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