Beth Van Hoesen’s prints and drawings of playful poppies
, solemn owls, jubilant dahlias, and almost brooding bears
are filled with undeniable, if seemingly simple, beauty. But their approachability belies the intense focus and perfectionism the San Francisco artist (1926–2010) was known for. Little concerned with—though certainly aware of—artistic trends, she created timeless prints. Van Hoesen worked painstakingly, printing in her studio on a finicky turn-of-the-century press that gave her the connection to her prints she desired, and wrote of frustrations with printers who could not or would not meet her standards.
In observing the subjects that would become the focus of her work, Van Hoesen studied them persistently, until the perfect angle to express a creature’s personality or a flower’s lines became clear. The result is carefully structured but intimately expressive images that have long endeared her to art lovers.
For her 1981 print of the rooster Boris, “Van Hoesen rendered his feathers, comb, and wattle meticulously, and she sketched him in a variety of poses before settling on one from the side, with his tail feathers prominent and his head cocked partly backward, so he’s gazing imperiously over his shoulder,” Bob Hicks writes in Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna & Flora
. “But the eye takes the cake. It’s difficult not to anthropomorphize Boris, who looks a bit like Winston Churchill about to deliver a caustic remark or a Wall Street robber baron about to waddle off to lunch. Yet he is also, and primarily, a rooster—and a rooster with a memorable personality.”
Poppies (detail), 1967
Containing much the same nuance, Van Hoesen’s flowers, fruits, and vegetables are delicate portrayals, casual and natural in their feeling but crafted with strict dedication. In just a single calla lily, though deceivingly spare in appearance, Van Hoesen could express her mastery of technique and dedication to understanding and portraying the essence of her subject.