- Tyler Francke
Works of Heart: The Erin Hanson Gallery
Photos By Kara Langley
Hanging precariously and horizontally from a sheer face of red sandstone in the Nevada desert, hundreds of feet above the ground, most people would not be contemplating the creation of beautiful oil paintings — or the prospect of advancing the largest progress in the Impressionism art movement since the likes of Monet and Van Gogh.
Obviously, artist and entrepreneur Erin Hanson is not most people, and art lovers everywhere are fortunate for that. For it was indeed on the towering peaks of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area that her painting style was consolidated by a single inspiration and force of nature.
“I’ve been painting my whole life,” Hanson explains. “But it wasn’t until I moved to Las Vegas and started rock climbing that I really got impassioned and began to develop my own style.”
Hanson noticed how the rock landscapes were formed with distinct lines and sheer edges that created almost mosaic-like effects and patterns, endlessly appealing and attractive to the eye. She began to experiment with utilizing this style on other scenes, with crisp, deliberate brushstrokes and a vibrant color palette that combine to form gorgeous masterpieces not unlike collage or stained glass.
“If you look at my work, it’s almost more like a mosaic impression than a traditional landscape,” Hanson explains. “Each one of my brushstrokes is its own little square of color, almost like pointillism but much bigger.”
Hanson’s artistic journey doesn’t necessarily suggest she was destined to blaze new ground in the burgeoning school of Open Impressionism. She began painting as a young girl, voraciously learning oils, acrylics, watercolor, pen and ink, pastels, and life drawing from accomplished art instructors.
She began commissioning paintings at age 10, and two years later she was employed after school by a mural studio, learning the techniques of acrylics on the grand scale of 40-foot canvases that would go on to grace the interiors of major commercial properties like the Strat Hotel, Casino and SkyPod in Vegas.
A high school scholarship took her to Otis College of Art, where she immersed herself in figure drawing. Graduating high school at age sixteen and once again demonstrating that she was a child prodigy, Hanson next attended UC Berkeley, excelling further in her studies, creative development, and attaining a degree in bioengineering.
Though her love of art never wavered, she admits she became disillusioned with the belief that she might never earn a good living from her talents. It wasn’t until immersing herself in the brilliantly colored cliffs of Nevada and Utah, watching the seasons and the light change daily across the desert, that the inspiration became too great to contain.
In those beautiful surroundings, Hanson dedicated herself to creating one painting every week for the rest of her life. Her unique, minimalist technique of Open Impressionism — which blends classic impressionism and modern expressionism, with a dash of plein air style, and involves placing impasto paint strokes without layering, began to be emulated by other artists — and Hanson was credited as the pioneer and originator of this contemporary style, which has been described as a modern heir to Van Gogh and Monet.
Hanson does not build up the painting layer by layer, as in traditional oil painting, but instead lays her paint strokes side by side without overlapping — working to get each stroke “right the first time.” The clean brush strokes give a mosaic or stained-glass appearance to her paintings, while also conveying a sense of movement and spontaneity. She uses a limited palette of only five pigments to create vivid, un-muddied colors that ignite the imagination.
She worked hard to build a following through the art show circuit, attending traveling art shows and festivals on the weekends while working her day job during the week. She’s published three books of her work, developed more than a dozen brochures, published two magazines, and became an expert in the brave new world of online sales in her journey to success.
“I’ve tried every single type of art marketing you can do,” she says with a laugh.
The journey ultimately led her to establishing her own galleries and working studios, one in Carmel-by-the-Sea in her native California, and a sparkling new 18,000-square-foot gallery and production facility in McMinnville.
“People are kind of surprised when they walk in,” Hanson says of the Mac facility. “They’re expecting this little retail shop, and we are a full production studio as long as a football field in the industrial area of McMinnville.”
The gallery/studio not only showcases Hanson’s full repertoire of bold and vivacious oil paintings, to which she continues to add hundreds of new pieces each year, but also gives visitors a front-row view to the cutting-edge world of a modern artist. Her production facility includes a 3D scanner and massive flatbed printer, which can recreate Hanson’s works with up to 30 layers of paint to preserve the original depth and texture.
Visitors are welcome to take a full tour of the facility, which includes a meet-and-greet with the artist herself — who is typically immersed in her latest project.
Hanson finds inspiration everywhere. One of her most popular pieces, titled simply “The Path,” is a minimalist interpretation of a stretch of road in Glendale, California, she once traversed daily. But in her version, she ignored the manmade distractions — houses, cars, fire hydrants, etc. — to elevate the area’s natural beauty.
“I was able to use the paint and the impressionist style to capture the movement I felt in the landscape,” she says. “I just wanted to capture the beauty of it all. This was an earlier painting where I was really developing my style through trial and error over the years. I painted this one a dozen times before I finally got it right and just went, ‘Bingo!’”
Her subjects range from the iconic — Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, Smith Rock, and Cannon Beach’s towering Haystack Rock, to name just a few — to the everyday.
“I can see beauty anywhere,” she says, adding with a chuckle: “I paint my front yard all the time.”
The Erin Hanson Gallery is located at 1805 NE Colvin Court, a stone’s throw from historic downtown McMinnville, and is an essential stop on your next tour through Oregon’s wine country. For more information, visit erinhanson.com, call 503-334-3670 or follow the artist and galleries on social media.