Artist Beth Van Hoesen (American, 1926-2010) spent her life striving to create perfect images set apart from time and space, unrestricted by context and distilled to essential fundamentals.
Van Hoesen’s perfection comes from a lifetime of constant drawing. Beginning in childhood, she always had paper and pencil with her and drew the world around her, no matter how mundane. As a result, her images are rendered with an almost scientific devotion to line, emphasizing an importance of craftsmanship and technique in the creation of her artwork.
The University of Wyoming Art Museum received a generous gift of 31 prints and drawings from the E. Mark Adams and Beth Van Hoesen Adams Trust in May 2012. A selection of works will be exhibited from Feb. 2-March 30, with a public opening from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 1.
Van Hoesen’s attention to accuracy is most obvious in her depictions of birds and animals, comparable to the great naturalist and illustrator, John James Audubon. However, unlike Audubon, who killed his specimens with a carefully aimed shot, arranged them and then copied them in precise detail, Van Hoesen’s approach was less scientific. She drew from live subjects, always searching for the animal’s individual, specific personality to best convey the “look” of life in her subjects.
By focusing purely on the animal, Van Hoesen placed her subjects in isolation, stripping them of any outside context. Th e perfection in her prints came from many preparatory drawings and early state proofs, and her near-legendary control over the printmaking process revealed a meticulous working process.
Working during a period when the ability to render an image in precise detail was less important to many areas of contemporary art, especially with the rise of photography in which the artist was no longer expected to be a chronicler of physical accuracy, Van Hoesen was able to connect to the great traditions of the old masters, not only in technique but also by subject matter.
Even today, Van Hoesen serves as testament that artistic perfection is not spontaneous but born from keen observation and repetition.
Nicole M. Crawford is curator of collections at the UW Art Museum.