Though she was raised in a Los Angeles suburb, wilderness has always called out to Heather Anderson. She began making sketches of the Sierra Nevada on her very first trip to the mountains, a honeymoon, in 1950. But it wasn't until 40 years later that the mother and art teacher really started to paint her distinctive interpretation of the rigorous peaks so close to her adopted home of Fresno.
Now Anderson — recognized in 2012 by the Fresno Arts Council with a Horizon Award for her dedication to environmental art — offers what she says is perhaps her last exhibition. Titled "Wilderness," it opens at Fig Tree Gallery Thursday as one of the highlights of ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods.
We caught up with Anderson, a longtime member of the Sierra Club and the author of "A Life in Landscape," to talk about the exhibition, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Wilderness Act. For an extended version of the interview, go to www.fresnobeehive.com.
Question: Did you plan the connection between your show and the anniversary of the act?
My goal since 1991 has been to have a body of new work every two years, and this show coincided with our 50-year wilderness celebration. I realized from my hiking how much I loved these mountains, so if I really cared about them, I needed to do what I could to help preserve them and our wilderness. From my recent trip to the international conference sponsored by the Wilderness Foundation and hosted by Salamanca, Spain, I realized how many folks worldwide are also dedicated to that singular purpose.
Some would say you got started late as an artist. Did you paint at all during those years between your time in college in the 1940s and when you picked up your brushes again in the early 1990s?
I couldn't focus on painting with family duties. In order to be a good mother, and before the feminist movement, women were socialized to be a full-time housewife. When the children grew up and left, I was free to return to teaching, but by then education had escalated and an M.A. would no longer help gain a position. Back to the drawing board for the Ph.D. in art education and a job. That is how I eventually came to Fresno.
Your technique is realistic in that we can definitely figure out what you're painting — peaks, valleys, rocks, water. But the colors are abstract and startling — purple skies, ochre mountain ridges, impossibly turquoise lakes. When you look at a scene, do the colors in your works come to mind at once?
No. I think of the ambience of the area, what would give the feeling of that place. Often the color I start with doesn't work and I have to change my color idea, or even pour turpentine all over it and start again. Some of my work is choppy because of the fascination in relating too many color strokes. If things go well, the painting paints itself, but for me that rarely happens. In other words, it tells me what to do, and the work ends far different from the original concept.
It's clear from your paintings that you have a deep and abiding bond with the Sierra. What do these mountains mean to you?
I like to say that I was born with wilderness in my blood even though I grew up in a Southern California suburban environment. They represent inexpressible beauty.
After studying art, you've said you really learned to see rocks, rivers, mountains and meadows. Can non-artists do the same?
Kimon Nicolaides said that if you haven't learned to draw, it is because you haven't learned to see. Everyone can see and anyone can paint and draw. It takes time, work and focus/practice. On your next walk, try noticing details, color, lines, light and dark, movement. Everyone has an artist inside.
More ArtHop picks
-- Alternative photographic processes are celebrated at Spectrum Art Gallery, 608 E. Olive Ave., in the new show "One Off." The artists in this group show have eschewed the ease of digital printing, turning to unconventional means to print a photograph. Methods include hand-salted paper prints, the toning of cyanotype images with tea and coffee, lumen prints (a cameraless process using black and white photo paper) and printing with platinum.
Details: spectrumphotogallery.org, (559) 266-0691.
-- At the Chris Sorensen Studio, 2223 S. Van Ness Ave., the group invitational exhibition "WORD" features 60 artists riffing on text and language. Says organizer Edward Gillum: "Countries, couples, parents, children, friends, even ideologies struggle to communicate clearly. Words and language are tools to better use and hopefully bridge some of the gaps in communication."
Details: cmsartstudio.com, (559) 237-4934.
-- Another big group show: K-Jewel Art Gallery, 1415 Fulton St., partners with Hadassa, the American Jewish volunteer women's organization. Almost every piece shown will be for sale for a group exhibition. Proceeds will go to cardiac research and educating the public on a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Thirty artists will be represented, including Iris Duarte, Lise Rosenthal, Nancy Youdelman, Dixie Salazar and Evany Zirul. Music for the evening will be provided by the group FresMorim, a Klezmer band.
Details: kjwl.com, (559) 497-5118.
Exhibition information: "Wilderness: Views of the Sierra Nevada," works by Heather Anderson, through March 2. Fig Tree Gallery, 644 Van Ness Ave., figtreegallery.us
ArtHop information: 5-8 p.m. Thursday, various locations. fresnoartscouncil.org
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, firstname.lastname@example.org or @donaldbeearts on Twitter.