Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna & Flora, a new art book with images by the California artist Beth Van Hoesen (1926-2010) and essays by Bob Hicks, has just been published by Pomegranate, the Portland-based international publishing house that also has European headquarters in England. The Portland Art Museum holds the largest collection anywhere of Van Hoesen’s prints, and she was represented in Portland for many years by the legendary Fountain Gallery. The book, available this month, includes dozens of full-color reproductions of Van Hoesen’s prints of plants and animals. Hicks, a writer and editor for Oregon ArtsWatch, talks for ArtsWatch readers about the book project and Van Hoesen’s life and art.
No artist is an island, entire of herself. Timothy Berry, the San Francisco painter and fine printer who was a friend and collaborator with the printmaker Beth Van Hoesen, once told me he thought of Van Hoesen and her artist husband, Mark Adams, as being “out of time” – eccentrics who, while living and working in the midst of the revolutionary ferment of the mid-20th century Bay Area art world, considered themselves inheritors and practitioners of a much deeper art history uncluttered by the revisions and excesses of contemporary life.
Looking at Van Hoesen’s art, as I’ve been doing for the past five years through a series of projects, it’s easy to understand what Berry means. My involvement with Van Hoesen and her circle began in 2009 when I reviewed a large exhibition of her prints at the Portland Art Museum, which two years earlier had been given the largest collection of her printed works anywhere: a print each from about 650 of her editions. In my new book, Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna & Flora (Pomegranate, 2014, 144 pages, $40), you can look at print after print that seem tied more closely to the long traditions of pre-modernist European art than to the work of the groundbreaking contemporary California artists she knew well and socialized with often: people like Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Arneson, Imogen Cunningham, Roy DeForest, Elmer Bischoff, and her longtime drawing-group companions Wayne Thiebaud and Theophilus Brown.*
Dürer and Audubon and the masterful Hudson River School painter Martin Johnson Heade come to mind as artists she might have considered her true contemporaries, not so much for their specific styles or achievements as for their subject matter and devotion to meticulous realistic technique. While the big ideas of abstract expressionism and the California counterrevolution of funk and raw, freewheeling representation exploded around her, Van Hoesen was enraptured by the microcosm of everyday life: flowers, fruits and vegetables, animals both wild and domestic, bodies and faces, dolls and babies, domestic scenes. In her devotion to the everyday she might have been working under the influence of Vermeer and De Hooch – great painters, but hardly the stuff of mainstream American art in the mid and late 20th century.