The Outdoor Palette

Don Hanson, Barn Owl with Rust #2, 18” x 24”, experimental image transfer on Japanese Kozo papers with mixed media, including tar and blowtorch on a base of Rives BFK paper, 2003-2004

Oftentimes the first question a young child asks upon entering a natural history museum and seeing the stuffed specimens is: “Are these real?” Barn Owl with Rust #2 begs the same question . . . is this real? Is this a photograph or a painting? Is this a living bird or a piece of taxidermy? Don Hanson works hard to erase these boundaries, and subsequently his work balances delicately in a liminal zone – a sensory threshold.

Barn Owl with Rust #2
is both a photograph and a painting; it depicts a once living bird now stuffed with cotton and arsenic, grasping a perch that it has grasped for 100 years. The owl’s vibrant white form is overlain with rust and decomposition; it looks old, but still manages to appear immediate and present. The surface of the image looks worn, like decomposing film – full of age spots and scratches. But beneath this veneer of rust and decay, there is palpable life in the portrait. The piece seems born of shadows and evokes ideas of the passage of time, the corrosion of man-made things and the tenacity of the natural world.

Owl with Rust #2 is part of Hanson’s Avian Series: Damaged Beauty, a project that began with photographs taken at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Employing photography, a printing press, paint, blowtorches, Japanese rice papers, asphaltum, tar, rust, and a seemingly endless panoply of mediums, Hanson glues, compresses, paints, and manipulates materials until he finds a balance. The final result, as evidenced here, defies this striking array of materials and processes, and emerges to stand securely on its own.

Somewhere, deep in the belly of biology, there lie glistening clues to our questions about life. Barn Owl with Rust #2 reflects these larger questions in a haunting and sensitive way. —Adelaide Tyrol

Don Hanson lives in Stowe, Vermont and can be reached through his website:


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