For over a decade, Erin Hanson has been pioneering and perfecting Open-Impressionism. Inspired by the Impressionists, Hanson harnesses this artistic approach as a means to capture the fleeting beauty of the natural world. Specifically, the California-based artist employs this style to craft paintings inspired by her own experiences exploring America's wine regions, vast network of National Parks, and other idyllic landscapes across the country.
The subject matter is striking enough on its own, but the way that Hanson treats this iconography is what sets her paintings apart from that of other contemporary Impressionists. Her canvases are characterized by bursts of bright color rendered with expressive brushstrokes and accentuated by outlines reminiscent of stained glass windows or mosaics.
Perfect for capturing light and shadow, these qualities allow Hanson to freeze otherwise ephemeral moments in time and bring “a fresh new look to Western landscapes,” which remain the muse behind the movement. “Open-impressionism is all about capturing impressions of a landscape, memories and fleeting glimpses of color,” Hanson has told My Modern Met in the past. “I am not trying to re-create a photograph, I am trying to get my viewers to open their eyes and see their world a little differently.”
We recently had the chance to catch up with Hanson, culminating in our exclusive interview below. Read on to find out more about her colorful practice and unique approach to art.
One of your earliest artistic endeavors saw you painting large-scale murals. In what ways has this experience informed your current practice?
I do prefer working larger in general but that experience really helped me hone my control of color. I would get handed a little cup with a specific color paint and it was my job to recreate that color from buckets and buckets. It was like how I mix now but in a much, much larger scale. This skill has continued to evolve and now when I see even the most fleeting speck of brilliant color in a natural landscape I know how to identify it in my mind and how to recreate it.
The last time we checked in with you, you were dedicated to a longterm goal of completing one painting a week. Are you still pursuing this objective?
Absolutely! I have found it to be one of, if not THE, most valuable driving forces or “stable datums” in my artistic endeavors. It keeps me evolving as an artist and feeling challenged while also ensuring I never get too sucked into “gallery life.” Running a gallery really is very, very fun so it helps me to maintain my artistic focus.
You find much of your inspiration while hiking and rock-climbing. When painting the scenes you come across, do you work from photographs?
I do! That is a very apt question. I find it to be the most helpful to work from photographs and also my own mental picture of what I experienced. The light is changing drastically every few seconds so doing a “live” painting while still keeping the focus on light and color would be nearly impossible. It would be like a portrait artist painting a person who moved their face every two seconds and looked like an entirely different person every minute. I capture that fleeting light, the moment where the shadows are longest and when the natural colors are at their most brilliant.
When exactly did you develop Open-Impressionism? How, in terms of your own work, has this style evolved over time?
It was in 2007 that I first decided to follow in the footsteps of the Impressionists and paint in their style. The phrase “open” embodies the idea of an “openness” in technique and also the outdoors.
As far as any evolution or change over time, I would say that any shifts tend to happen very organically. Every new landscape I see, every new piece of artwork I see in a museum or art book and every painting I create really informs my next step. I don’t know that, as an artist, I can do or see much that doesn’t somehow influence the way I paint. That is part of what keeps everything so exciting!
What has it been like watching other artists adopt this style?
Honestly, it is a complete honor. I have always had such a soft spot in my heart for impressionism and nature. It really touches me that people respond so emotionally to what I am doing and that many want to emulate the style. One of the most fun things about the concept of keeping it “open” is that the sky is truly the limit. I often get referred to as an expressionist and a fauvist, which I never would have expected.
Do you ever experiment with other painting styles?
Recently, I have started venturing into still life floral pieces. I did a couple of sunflower still-life pieces in 2016 for my Orange Show as a nod to Van Gogh and then picked it up again this spring when I was getting further along in my pregnancy. It really is a different beast to paint in this way and I enjoyed the full process of selecting the blooms, arranging them, staging them and then working out the best lighting in my studio. It really was a fun style to explore.
Finally, please tell us about any upcoming projects or plans!
I have dreamt of having a permanent presence in Carmel-by-the-Sea for many years. I was just up in the area and an amazing opportunity fell into my lap that I couldn’t pass up. The famed Dr. Seuss gallery in the heart of Carmel is closing down and the space just became available. One of my Carmel-collectors has a local winery and knew about my dream of having a gallery and the new availability for an almost perfect location. A match was made!
I am now working on the leg-work to arrange the construction and such and I am so excited to be opening a second gallery in Carmel before the end of the fall! It truly is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited and is such a wonderful hub for the arts.