For landscape painter Marc Hanson, art is everywhere his travels take him
By Rosemary Carstens
This story was featured in the November 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art November 2012 print edition here, or purchase the Southwest Art November 2012 digital download here. Or simply subscribe to Southwest Art magazine and never miss a story!
“When it comes to plein-air painting, Marc Hanson is a diehard,” says Elizabeth Pollie of Elizabeth Pollie Fine Art in Harbor Springs, MI, which represents Hanson’s work. “The miles on his brushes are proportional to the impressive mileage on his car odometer. His paintings are never overworked or overstated; they are odes to the natural world and our small place in it. Snow sweeps across a fallow field, a fishing boat coasts quietly through a darkening harbor, a country road disappears behind the gentle curve of a hill—these are the ‘in between’ places Marc excels at portraying.”
As the son of a career air force officer, Hanson is used to being on the road, but over the past five years he has stepped up the pace. He has wielded his brush and palette knife from coast to coast in the United States and internationally in locations from Rome and Florence to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to Cape Town, South Africa. While he enjoys the cultures and people he encounters along the way, it is the ever-changing landscape that calls to him and compels him to paint.
Born in Oxnard, CA, Hanson grew up in such diverse locations as Alaska, Florida, Nebraska, Arkansas, Norway, and South Dakota, “I was fascinated by the land in every new place we lived,” he says. “My childhood memories are filled with happy days searching for lizards in California fields, fishing off white-sand beaches in Florida, taking in the smell and colors of dove fields outside Texarkana, as well as soaking up the distinctive light and shadow of Norway’s landscapes and spending foggy early mornings in the Sacramento River Delta duck hunting with my dad. I could go on and on. To this day, the landscape fills me with joy unlike any other subject matter.”
Hanson’s father, an avid outdoorsman, played a significant role in the artist’s developing love of nature. Wherever they lived, his father encouraged Marc and his brother to be active sportsmen, fishing, hunting, skiing, sailing, and participating in other sports. Hanson was one of only a couple of dozen Boy Scouts in Norway to be guided by World War II British paratroopers on a five-day, cross-country ski expedition over a previously uncrossed mountain pass in the middle of a blizzard while trying to achieve their 50 Miler badges. They received the badges—the first for skiing ever to be awarded.
In high school, a friend gave him a copy of Louis Agassiz Fuertes and the Singular Beauty of Birds, a portfolio of the artist’s bird-life studies from all over the world. From that moment, Hanson knew he wanted to paint birds, and he did so for almost 25 years. Although he began college as a biology major, thinking about possibly becoming an ornithologist or maybe a wild-animal veterinarian, he quickly realized his real interest was art. He applied and was accepted into the illustration department at the Art Center College of Design, now in Pasadena, CA, which he attended for five trimesters until he ran out of funds. Dan McCaw was his painting instructor. “He changed my life by introducing me to such artists as Nicolai Fechin, Leon Gaspard, Richard Schmid, Joaquin Sorolla, and Sergei Bongart,” says Hanson.
Although he started out working in watercolor and pen-and-ink, in art school Hanson painted mostly in gouache, acrylic, and then oil. After art school he continued to paint in gouache and oil, and he also tried scratchboard, serigraphs, and even stained glass and enamel. Today he works in both oils and pastels.
“I realized I could be more expressive swinging a bigger brush than it took to paint a highlight on a hummingbird’s eyeball.”
In 1979, Hanson moved to Minnesota, where he spent a couple of years working in construction. He then worked at a resort for a “walleye-fishing and duck- hunting guru with an appreciation for wildlife art and conservation,” from whom he learned much about the region. All the while he continued to paint, and his work began to sell. A yearlong commission in 1985 to help illustrate the National Geographic Societies’ Field Guide to North American Birds allowed him to leap full time into his art career, and he’s never looked back. For years his work focused on birds and other wildlife, but in 1989 a motivational workshop with Richard Schmid set him on his present course—painting his first love, the landscape, from life. He found he could communicate more meaningfully about the environment, birds, and other wildlife if he painted their habitat, portraying the natural world so essential to their survival. As he says, “I realized I could be more expressive swinging a bigger brush than it took to paint a highlight on a hummingbird’s eyeball.”
Hanson loves the Midwest’s “marshy, swampy, hardwood-forested, farmland landscape,” and he has represented its subtle beauty in his work for the last 33 years. He’s a devoted proponent of American painter Charles W. Hawthorne’s philosophy that “it’s so much greater to make much out of little than to make little out of much—better to make a big thing out of a little subject than to make a little thing out of a big one.”
Highly representative of that philosophy is Hanson’s painting MONDAY MORNING, created at the Door County Plein Air Festival in Fish Creek, WI, this past summer. Its strong compositional elements and array of subtle value shifts showcase the artist’s strengths. At 16 by 20 inches, it is large for a plein-air work; and its simple subject matter—the view down a two-track dirt lane lined with various shades and hues of green brush, trees, and grasses—makes evident his penchant and ability for “making much out of little.” He began this piece on a Monday morning, worked for a few hours until the changing light forced him to stop, and hoped to continue it the following morning. But it wasn’t until Thursday afternoon that he was able to return to the site to finish it. Because he had already set the light key and captured the atmospheric mood, the change in time of day wasn’t a big handicap. He refined masses of foliage and added detail to enhance the overall design and color harmony. Apparently he did something right: MONDAY MORNING won both Best of Show and the Artists’ Choice award—a first in the history of the event.
Hanson’s painting RIGHT OR LEFT is also an award-winner. It won the Bronze Medal at the Oil Painters of America National Juried Exhibition in 2011 and has been a highlight of Hanson’s career—especially since the award came from juror Scott Christensen, whom Hanson views as “one of the most important landscape painters living today.” Here Hanson employed his signature style, using a large brush to quickly knock in the big shapes and making marks to indicate compositional placement of key elements. The artist’s deft handling of light and atmosphere evokes memories of the beauty to be found in such ordinary winter scenes.
Recently, with his two sons grown and out on their own, Hanson decided to look for a milder climate where he could still experience seasonal changes. After investigating a variety of locations—including serious consideration of Cape Town, South Africa—Hanson has settled in Colorado. He’s excited about the region’s wide choice of subject matter, from dramatic peaks and bouldered canyons to open ranchlands and tree-lined streams, as well as the state’s much-touted 300 days a year of sunshine.
In addition to being an award-winning artist, Hanson pursues an impressive list of other interests. He hunts, fishes, and shoots a wooden flatbow with cedar arrows he made himself. He builds things: easels, paint boxes, and palettes for friends; a 12-foot flat-bottomed rowing skiff; and an airplane from a kit. He holds a private pilot’s license, roller blades, runs, skis, loves most types of music, and reads avidly about art, flying, and archery. The list goes on, but Hanson can best be summed up as a man who appreciates life and nature and does his level best to experience it all.
Those experiences shine through in his work. As Elizabeth Pollie says, “Both artists and collectors could learn a lot from Marc Hanson and his paintings. They inspire you to leave the glitz behind, take only what you need, and walk out into nature. In a world that has harnessed its wagons to the spark and thunder of modern technology, Marc remains loyal to the land. His work eloquently echoes the ideals and passions of the great naturalist John Muir, who once said, ‘In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.’ The same can be said of every Hanson painting.”
Addison Art Gallery, Orleans, MA; American Legacy Gallery, Kansas City, MO; Elizabeth Pollie Fine Art, Harbor Springs, MI; Ponderosa Art Gallery, Hamilton, MT; RS Hanna Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX; Horton Hayes Fine Art, Charleston, SC; marchansonart.com.
Featured in the November 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
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