Erin Hanson

Impressions of Zion

<em>Zion Vista</em>, oil on canvas, 2017, 72 x 50 inches
Zion Vista, oil on canvas, 2017, 72 x 50 inches


At a young age, Erin Hanson, 36, set her sights on becoming an artist but ultimately pursued bioengineering, having heeded a warning from older artists that she couldn’t make a living from art. Then 10 years ago, Hanson picked up a brush, began painting once a week, and hasn’t looked back. Now, she lives and works in San Diego, where she runs her eponymous gallery.

“I started painting in oils when I was seven or eight years old. I wanted to be an impressionist painter—van Gogh was my biggest inspiration. I remember seeing The Irises and being familiar with that painting. Then gardening with my mom, we planted some irises and when they bloomed, I was like, ‘That’s not what irises are supposed to look like—they’re supposed to be colorful and full of motion!’ I realized at a pretty young age that paintings could be an improvement on real life, and could bring out more of the color, emotion, and beauty. One of my goals as an artist is to bring Impressionism back to the forefront in terms of popularity and contemporary art. It uplifts people—I don’t like it when art is a downer. I like art to be something that you actually want to be around and that makes you feel good.

When I graduated from college, I started a business that allowed me the freedom to get back to painting. I moved to Las Vegas and started rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon. I was rock climbing about three times a week, so I was getting hands-on experience with these rocks, and studying their texture. My style just kind of developed from painting rocks, this very chunky, colorful style. Nevada was all I painted for three years until I got up into Southern Utah, where I discovered Zion National Park for the first time.

I’ve been to Zion probably about a dozen times. I love being outdoors, getting out of the city, and being in the fresh air. A few years ago, in early November, I took a couple of my brothers and we did a five-day backpacking trip all the way across Zion. It was 50 miles, mostly up in the high plateaus. Then we would come down into the canyon and hike out again—all the way out to the east gate. At the start of the hike, the ranger dropped us off at the trailhead and said, ‘Have you heard of the storm warning?’ and we were like, ‘Uh no, we checked the weather and there was no indication of a storm.’ And he responded, ‘Well, a warning just came in. Okay, I’ll see you guys in five days!’ So we hiked for three days and on the fourth day, it started to rain. And it rained all day; we hiked in the rain, and we camped in the rain at night. The next day, it started snowing, and the temperature crashed down to like 17 degrees. The last day, we headed out in the snow, did the final 10 miles, and made it to the car. It was definitely an adventure—I probably did about 50 paintings just from that trip alone.

I go back to Zion every year, and I’ve seen it in all different seasons. I’ve seen it in late winter, summer, spring, and fall, when all the cottonwoods turn bright yellow. It’s just such a beautiful place, and it’s really easy to get to. To me, Zion is like an adventure zone. It’s like a play place for people who love the outdoors and camping. I have a lot of great memories of it, so when I paint it, I’m always really happy.”

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Noelani Kirschner is a former assistant editor for the Scholar.


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