Ann Hanson | Portraits of Time and Place

Ann Hanson is driven to paint her world

By Elizabeth L. Delaney

Ann Hanson, Listen, oil, 12 x 16.

Ann Hanson, Listen, oil, 12 x 16.

This story was featured in the March 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  March 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

Wyoming artist Ann Hanson paints what she lives and what she loves. Hanson brings to life the people around her in luminous color and striking detail as she depicts scenes of the quintessential American West. “I love capturing the subtleties of day-to-day life and portraying the small snippets that look into the lives and hearts of my friends and neighbors,” she says.

Hanson grew up in Wyoming, where she still lives with her family. She has spent most of her life outside of urban areas, surrounded by the state’s wide-open spaces, animals, and the imprints of both Native American and cowboy/cowgirl cultures. So it was a natural outcome that the people so prevalent in Hanson’s experiences became central to her artwork.

As a rule, Hanson gravitates toward painting people, animals, and other objects within her personal and geographical sphere. Her penchant for this stems from an ongoing desire to convey the ordinary yet significant aspects of our daily existence—tangible records of time and place. Cowgirls racing by on horseback, young women of the Crow Nation festooned in tribal garb, cows lazing in the field: these are the fleeting moments that intrigue Hanson. Though uniquely personal, they also act as emblems of shared memories and history.

Hanson’s journey with art began early on as a powerful and innate need to create. “I think I was born with a paintbrush in my hand,” remarks the artist, who felt her calling from the very beginning. Both her mother and great-aunt painted in their spare time, and they inspired young Ann’s creative expression throughout her childhood. She has a particularly fond memory of admiring a painting of a Native American woman rendered by her great-aunt. She spent countless hours gazing at it over the years, getting lost in its charm and dreaming of one day becoming a painter herself.

Hanson attended Northwest College in Powell, WY, where she took classes in design and technical illustration amid her continued self-study in fine art. Over time, she expanded her drawing repertoire to include colorful pastels and eventually added oil paint into the mix. “I just bought some oils and started painting,” she remembers of her dive into a new medium.

Over the ensuing years, Hanson continued her artistic pursuits, both full time and while working other jobs, such as waiting tables and bookkeeping. Now, 30 years into her career, the results of her tenacity are apparent. She routinely shows in such national exhibitions as Cowgirl Up! at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, AZ; the American Miniatures show at Settlers West Galleries in Tucson, AZ; and the Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale in Cody, WY, where she won the William E. Weiss Purchase Award in 1990. “I’ve been really lucky,” she says. “I’m having a great time doing what I love. I feel truly blessed.”

Among the many artists whose work has influenced her approach to painting are American realist painter Clark Hulings and William Adolphe Bouguereau, the 19th-century French academic painter noted for his stunningly natural figures. Like these two, Hanson exhibits a vested interest in communicating a palpable life force within her figures. To do this, she often eliminates traditional backgrounds and landscapes in her compositions, intent on maintaining a tight focus on the principal features of her subjects—a technique that also allows her to distill the content down to its most
intense facets of light, color, and form.

Forever in search of the most effective and engaging composition, Hanson begins her paintings by taking multiple photographs of her prospective subjects in action. She has embraced technology wholeheartedly and finds her digital camera to be an indispensable tool for capturing the exact positioning and mood she wants to translate in paint. Having the camera frees her up to simultaneously record and analyze her shots, all while moving along with her subjects.

Once she is ready to render her idea in two dimensions, Hanson executes a meticulous drawing, where she arranges the overall framework as well as the extensive detailing that makes up the composition. This front-loaded process provides her with a clear path as she paints and allows her to identify any elemental challenges. “The drawing phase is where I work out all the problems,” she explains. “So when I start painting, I’ve already taken care of anything that might go haywire.”

When she finally puts brush to surface, Hanson is confident in her path forward (and always intent on finishing the piece). She starts with a monochromatic value painting to block in shapes; then she adds the voluptuous color and light effects that characterize her signature style. She strives for what she considers just the right amount of detail—enough to reveal the life within the subject, but not so much that it becomes brash. Further, she carefully considers lighting for each piece, as she constantly looks for ways to improve upon her technique. “In every painting I want to learn something new,” she remarks. For all her preparation and painstaking precision, Hanson nevertheless finds great joy in every aspect of the progression from idea to artwork. “I don’t look at it as labor,” she says. “To me it’s fun. I love the whole process of painting.”

Moving into the future, Hanson intends to maintain her style—always looking to grow but also reveling in the methodology she has developed throughout her career. “Style is what it is,” says the artist. “To me, painting is about your personality and what interests you.”

Hanson describes her art-making as more than just a profession. For her, it is an endeavor that is necessary to feed her soul. She says simply, “It’s a drive.”

In Her Own Words: REGAL

Tell me about the subject of this painting. Who is it? What inspired you to paint her? This is one of the little girls that I’ve covered over the years. I go up to Crow Fair Celebration every summer at Crow Agency, MT. I have painted her since she was about 4—I think she’s 7 now. It’s been really fun watching her grow up right before my eyes. She has a presence. There’s just something about her: She’s really striking and fun to paint. And she has no fear. It’s amazing how she interacts with adults and is really sure of herself—and really proud of her Native American heritage.

How is this painting similar to or different from your other work? It’s similar, in that I paint what I see. I really value that. It means a lot to me to chronicle these images, especially the Native American girls. I’m looking at them, and I see all the regalia that they wear—that’s somebody else’s artwork, and I want to be respectful of that. I want that to come across in a respectful way, so I really try to make it look how it looks in real life.

What challenges did you face with this piece? When there are so many colors, that’s a challenge in itself. You get so many of them together, and they can almost be garish. Trying to make those colors work without changing them too much: I think that’s the biggest challenge.

Tell me a little about the color choices you made in this painting. There’s really no background. I do that a lot on my portraits on purpose because I don’t want anything to interfere with the subject. But, I want the background to complement it and set it apart. The figure herself, she’s backlit, but I wanted to give an overall feeling of brightness—that’s why I chose a bright background. That color sets off the colors in the piece itself, too.

Tell me a bit about the composition you chose. I’m a real stickler for composition and design in a piece. I move things around so the design looks the way I think it should. I take a series of photos, and when I’m planning the painting, that’s when I can change things around. At the Crow Fair parade, all the participants usually are on horseback. I try to get candid shots of all the kids that I paint, so I don’t ask them to pose for me. I watch them and try to capture a look that I feel is interesting.

What message, feeling, or memory do you hope the viewer takes away from this painting? I paint for myself. I don’t consciously think, “What is somebody going to think about this?” The thing I liked about this scene was the look of the girl—to me she just looks regal. She looks like she knows she’s important. I really thought that was awesome, for such a little kid to be able to have that come across in her face. I think it’s really neat how proud she is of her heritage and that she’s being taught that.

Big Horn Galleries, Cody, WY; Lovetts Gallery, Tulsa, OK.

This story was featured in the March 2017 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art  March 2017 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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