jenn reidel
Art Hansen (Island View)

Seeing Vashon Island through Art Hansen's eyes is an honest, humorous journey filled with grand and small surprises. In his work we become as awed by the land as he. Hansen has been inspired by all that it offers, from the tallest fir tree to the tiniest clump of garlic. You can trust him to capture what we might miss in our fast-paced lives. His drawings are like those gentle reminders we occasionally hear to "stop and smell the roses."

Life, it seems, has been generous to Art Hansen, handing him his destiny early. He has fashioned an artistic career which melds easily into his every day, a life force, very much like breathing. Add his determination and sense of place and it all spelled early success for Hansen.

In 1952 while a the Art Student's League in New York City, he received a Pulitzer Prize and his first solo exhibition a the Seattle Art Museum at age 22. In 1953 he was awarded a Fullbright Fellowship and went to Germany to study at the Academie de Bildenden Kunste, Munich.


Since 1960 he has worked steadily on his art. "I have never had another job and neither did my wife. I had a very definite, straightforward, clear idea of what I wanted to do. No one was going to convince me of other options. I knew I wanted to work here as an artist."

Hansen's paintings, lithographs and etchings are in many private and public collections which include the Seattle Art Museum, Microsoft, Boeing, KING Broadcasting, Safeco, US West and the Library of Congress. His work is exhibited regularly at Kimzey Miller Gallery and Davidson Galleries in Seattle.

Gallery owner Sam Davidson has sold many hundreds of Hansen's etchings. In 1994 Davidson Galleries in association with the University of Washington Press published Art Hansen, Etchings, which includes 120 etchings dating between 1958 and 1993. Davidson is drawn to Hansen's etched work which he says combines an awareness of silhouettes, space and asymmetric composition used by Japanese woodblock artists.

Davidson says, "He has a lot of art history awareness and a commitment to things he knows. He includes just enough for very convincing and more interesting work. Contemporary artists tend to get away from the drawing. He is of the old school in which the foundation is the drawing. Through thick and thin he has always produced. He is true to things that have meaning for him."

Over the years Hansen has pictured the island in his unique style, making it truly grand in the scheme of things. He shapes the land in his mind and masterfully renders its rural character with pencil or brush. He is a master at etching and his work, which spans four decades, touches just about every emotion felt by the human being when encountering the natural beauty of Vashon Island.

Hansen has lived for over 30 years on Vashon with his wife Gerda. He laughs and says he was born on Vashon, "If you can believe that." On their land they have successfully raised children, many vegetable and flower gardens and several cows. Before them are tall firs, sloping pasture and beyond that Puget Sound and the setting sun, closing each day with a different radiant hue.

The house is a modest one and his studio, designed by one of his two architect sons, is stark and gray like the winter sky. Near the studio, a dark wall of fir trees swallow the light and follows rolling pasture where a black cow grazes. Inside his studio he quiet of the country laps against the soul. We can only guess what he hears while he draws. Could it be he whisper of the wind through the fir trees he so frequently chooses to draw?


Art Hansen doesn't have to say much about how he works. His work, like himself, is very straightforward.

"Well, if I see something good, it sticks. if it catches my eye, boy, I won't forget it, no way." He masterfully edits (what he calls selection) honing in on only the objects which interest him. "I draw the objects immediately. I want the experience of drawing. I would never work with a photograph. Never. It just wouldn't stimulate me. I want to look at the object. Now I'll show you how things work."

He picks up a black journal, sits down, and opens to a drawing of a fir tree. He is usually very quick in his selection process, but sometimes it takes longer to see it as subject matter, he says. "See that tree, I've been looking at that a long time and that is the first drawing I've done of it. We've lived here a long time, and I'd look out that window every night during the summer when we had the sunsets. Then one day I thought, gee, this is the great tree I wanted in the foreground of a big red barn. And that is kind of how you do things."


Up until recently, Vashon's ponds, forests, and farmland have been his major inspiration.

"Usually everything I would find here I would use. Well, I've always liked the Skagit Valley, and now I've started going up there to draw. There are these sloughs up there. I like reflections. See, I am always doing ponds. So you see why I might like that. And I like farms. There are working farms up there. So I love it up there.

"See, I kind of like it a little more rural. Vashon has lost most of it."