Exhibition Review: St. George
Painting Up the Parks
Erin Hanson's national park landcapes at the St. George Art Museum
About 10 years ago while at a personal crossroads, Los Angeles-based artist Erin Hanson began rock climbing in Nevada’s famous Red Rock Canyon. It was while she developed her adventurous new hobby that she rededicated herself to her work as a professional artist, inspired by the rugged beauty of the southwestern landscape. Committing herself to completing one painting a week, Hanson began the process of developing her personal artistic style and technique. “Early in the morning, I’d go climbing and see the light on the redrocks and think ‘I know I can capture that,’” she says. A decade later, Hanson continues to complete one painting a week, though she now works from her spacious studio-gallery in LA when she’s not exploring the wilderness of the western United States.
In her most recent paintings, Hanson has turned to a more familiar landscape—that of the national parks. Hanson has hiked and backpacked her way through many of the parks of the West, including and especially southern Utah’s Zion National Park, where she recently completed the ambitious 50-mile Trans-Zion Trek. A collection of her paintings from this and other adventures is on display in the St. George Art Museum exhibit Erin Hanson’s Painted Parks Jan.16 through May 28.
Some pieces in the show prominently feature human-made guide rails or built-up trails, which Hanson says is her way of pointing out everything the National Park Service does for its visitors. “They guide us on the trails so that we can experience these wonderful places without overrunning them,” Hanson says. In another gesture of appreciation, Hanson is dedicating 10 percent of her painting sales to Zion National Park.
In technique, Hanson’s work follows the philosophy of Impressionism (her style has been dubbed “Open Impressionism”) with minimal, direct, impasto brushstrokes giving the “impression” of the painted scene, as though pausing briefly before hurrying off down the trail. Hanson says this “in-the-moment” brevity in her portrayal of landscape is congruent with her personality. “This is pretty much how my mind works,” she explains. karatHer palette, however, reflects German Expressionism, with vibrant orange and emerald hues appearing often in the foreground.
Hanson begins her paintings with a brightly colored underpainting. Orange, purple, and magenta peek out between brushstrokes, occasionally forming branches and other objects in the foreground in a subtle reversal of negative space. A few paintings are on gold leaf on canvas, which Hanson says she enjoys working with because of the transient play of light across areas where the gold is allowed to peek through.
There is a fair amount of variety to Hanson’s exhibit, especially considering all the works were created in 2015. The texture of delicate “Canyonlands Wildflowers” reminds one of stained glass while “Gilded Reflection”is more blended, with less-defined shapes rolling into one another. The final and one of the most dramatic paintings Hanson completed for the exhibit is “Dawn at Bryce.” The view down into the canyon has been exaggerated, giving it an almost fish-eye distortion accompanied by slight vertigo. Appropriate for an artist who made the decision to paint professionally while dangling from a sandstone cliff. The mosaic-like rhythm of Hanson’s brushstrokes and pure hues (she prefers a limited palette with no added medium) make the distant scrub resemble small glass beads between the larger shapes of Bryce’s redrock formations. Hanson says the painting was something of a personal Waterloo this past year, taking nearly three times the time to complete as most of the other paintings, but she persevered, determined to capture the waning light reflected on the snow covering the redrock canyon.
Although Hanson was first drawn to painting the unique geology of the Southwest, it is the flora that has inspired her of late. She loves painting the cottonwoods in Zion National Park because they are so dynamic, she says. The sometimes green, sometimes gold foliage appears often in the collection, though it is the fiery aspen grove in “Cedar Breaks Color” that became the featured image for the exhibit.
Gallery Spotlight: St. George
Shaking Up Dixie
Arrowhead Gallery ETC opens in downtown St. George
Brought forth through months of hard work by the Southern Utah Art Guild, the Arrowhead Gallery ETC is a vibrant new addition to the pedestrian-friendly array of galleries in St. George’s flourishing arts district. “It’s going to be a fun venture for the artists and the community,” SUAG board member Michael Zabriskie says.
The gallery inhabits an arts and entertainment complex anchored by the Electric Theater, restored and reopened in August 2015 after a $3 million investment by the City of St. George to entice locals and tourists alike to the historic downtown area. Its name pays homage to the Arrowhead Department Store, tenants of the building from 1941 through the ‘70s.
A grand opening reception was held on Jan. 15, concurrent with the Art on Main and Arts to Zion gallery and studio tours. Those who stopped by to browse the artworks were treated to violin and harp music, plus catering by Twenty-Five Main. “We’re thrilled that it’s up and running,” says Alisha Burton, chair of the St. George Arts Commission. “The gallery is very representative of the community of artists in St. George.”
The commission, which serves as an advisory panel, held discussions with several different arts groups, ultimately deciding that SUAG’s plan was most in line with the city’s vision. The guild previously held exhibits and workshops in another historic building, now the St. George Children’s Museum. “We saw it as a win-win, as something that would be great for SUAG and their artists—to be able to go to the next level and have a place to exhibit and sell their work, and also to do their work,” Mayor Jon Pike says. “It just seemed like a great thing for them and for the citizens of St. George, as part of our historic and newly defined arts district.”
The guild’s lease of the building is supported by the participating artists as a co-op. Consequently, Arrowhead depends less on sales than other local galleries, allowing the committee to look beyond the market and take a little more risk in what is hung on the walls. The resulting display leans more toward the abstract than the traditional, with mediums such as painting, photography, ceramics, jewelry, sculpture, and decorative gourds represented.
Works by some 30 artists, all SUAG members, are currently on display. These pieces were juried by a panel of art professionals and educators representing Dixie State University, among other Utah schools. “Most are emerging artists,” Zabriskie says. “We do have some incredible talent.”
The layout was supervised by a six-person hanging committee. It will rotate several times a year to give every artist the opportunity to occupy a different space, with two or three featured in the window display. New artists will be allowed to join every six months.
The seven adjoining studios, which are typically open to the public during business hours, provide visitors with a glimpse of the artistic process.
Board member Jo Ann Merrill hopes to further the gallery’s association with the university to involve and support art students. She also plans to organize workshops on a regular basis. The next, featuring renowned local artist Roland Lee, will focus on landscape painting and is scheduled for Feb. 25 and 26. More information on upcoming SUAG events can be found at southernutahartguild.com. “I think we’re going to bring a lot to the downtown area,” Merrill says.
SUAG was created approximately four years ago from a small group known as the Visual Arts Association and has grown from about 15 members to nearly 200, all of whom are permanent or seasonal residents of the St. George area. This diverse group includes a 22-year-old college graduate, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, and many professional and amateur artists in between who create in virtually every style and medium. They are united by their passion for and commitment to art.
Many popular attractions, such as the St. George Musical Theater and Ancestor Square, are within walking distance of the gallery. Pike hopes that through cross-pollination of galleries, restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues in the area, more and more people will enjoy spending time downtown. Introducing a strong and captivating selection of local art, the Arrowhead may just become another St. George tradition. “We’re just scratching the surface of developing into an arts destination,” Burton says. “We have a lot of great things in place, and some more exciting things coming. This will be one of the pillars.”