Treasures of the Swope
Louise B. Hansen (1927 Pleasant Grove, Utah – 2014 Terre Haute, Indiana)
Watercolor on paper
A gift in memorial of Violet Rich
For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but its surroundings bring it to life—the air and the light.
How can a painting so soft convey such clarity–so small, cause one to catch one’s breath in recognition? For anyone who has ever trod on spongy grass after a sudden summer downpour, this gem of a watercolor will revive the memory.
In the painting, August Storm, a sandy embankment in the foreground cradles a verdant green expanse that gives way to the distant horizon in a receding left-to-right line of diminishing hills in a perfect, indeterminant gray made of all the colors of the rainbow.
A passing summer squall has saturated the ground. The freshly scrubbed atmosphere is both hazy and transparent. Steam rises from the soaked earth as a shining lake mirrors the sky, illuminating the undersides of cumulus clouds, and informing the viewer of their great volume with delicate shifts of color. The viewer’s gaze lifts to the drama above. A bright white cloud, suffused with the sun’s light, is powered like an engine, expanding in space, and displacing the squabbling masses in the middle ground.
Louise Brimhall Hansen moved to Terre Haute in 1968, when her husband joined the physics faculty at Indiana State University. He taught a course on the properties of light that I had the privilege of taking, as a requirement for my major. Through her adept orchestration of color, light and tone in her painting, August Storm, Louise demonstrates that she also had a strong understanding of light and its effects: combining both intuition and science in the creation of her art.
Light is conceived by the human mind as both a wavelength and as condensed packets of energy, called photons. Wavelengths in the visible spectrum create the colors of the rainbow–ROYGBIV. Part of the invisible spectrum causes sunburn. It is one of the great pleasures and challenges of painting en plein air—that is, creating a painting outside, instead of in the studio–to experience and re-present the earth’s natural beauty without suffering from its effects. Thankfully, Louise Brimhall Hansen had the fortitude, vision, and knowledge to venture forth and bring us the magnificent August Storm.
Watercolor is a notoriously difficult medium. Mastering it requires dedicated practice, intense planning, and, paradoxically, tremendous reliance on intuition. Observing and recreating the sense of light in a rapidly changing environment requires painting less, accentuating open areas of the paper with color and tonal relationships in other parts of the painting. Hansen was recognized as an accomplished watercolorist and won many awards. She was elected to signature membership in the American Watercolor Society, a Cardinal Fellow in the Indiana Artist’s Club, and a member of the Hoosier Salon and the Brown County Art Guild.
Pablo Picasso once said, “There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence, transform a yellow spot into sun.” Louise Brimhall Hansen was one of the latter.
Summer Storm, by Louise Brimhall Hansen, 1990