Painter Elizabeth Hahn became part of Santa Fe’s vibrant arts community in 1988. A lifelong artist who grew up in Louisiana and attended college in Oklahoma, Hahn moved to town to become the director of an art gallery and then stayed because she fell in love with The City Different. Hahn co-owned Hahn Ross Gallery on Canyon Road for twenty years, shifting gears in 2014 to focus all her attention on her colorful paintings, which she describes as “stylized realism.”
How did growing up in Louisiana influence your art?
I essentially lived on an island in Louisiana with very lush plants, fish and flowers all around me. There were forests filled with bats. I was a free-range kid who went biking, running, climbing rocks, dancing and swimming in lakes a lot. Many of the subjects in my paintings come directly from these experiences.
What are a few important things you learned about the art world during the two decades (1994-2014) you co-owned Hahn Ross Gallery on Canyon Road?
One of the most important things I learned was to keep the gallery open all the time, seven days a week, which for me meant every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. I didn’t want people to show up and find the gallery closed. That would bother me. I also worked out payment plans with clients so the art was affordable to more people. As an artist myself, I wanted to be sure that we were fair to the artists whose work we represented, so we limited the number of artists and kept all their work on the walls all the time.
Has your work always been very colorful? What are your favorite colors right now?
Yes, I’ve always loved color. When I was about five years old, my dad gave me a box of sixty-four crayons. All I wanted to do was use every one of them! I love so many colors, but I guess one of my favorites right now is chartreuse. In my mind, I live in a technicolor world. I’ve always loved patterns, too. I think of myself as an early graffiti artist.
You usually focus on the lower half of people and not their faces. Why?
Because I’ve always been such a physically active person, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at my feet and other people’s feet as I move. I don’t want to trip and fall when I’m walking or step on someone’s feet when I’m dancing! What I like about focusing on the lower part of people is the anonymity of it all. When people look at my paintings and they don’t see any faces, they can see themselves in my work.
In addition to painting, what activities are you involved in?
I volunteer at St. John’s United Methodist Church’s Bag ’n Hand Food Pantry. Feeding people is really important to me. When I’m not painting or working with the food pantry, I still hike, swim and walk a lot. I walk everywhere. I have it timed so I know exactly how long it takes me to walk to Kaune’s [Neighborhood Market] to go shopping. It’s forty minutes from my house. I also walk to the Canyon Road and Railyard areas regularly. I don’t drive my car much. I can go an entire week without driving. I just walk to wherever I want to go.
Writing engaging articles for print and websites continues to be one passion of Emily Van Cleve. She has been a freelance writer and journalist in Santa Fe since 1994, serving a wide range of clients including magazines, newspapers, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Emily has been a contributor to Santa Fean magazine for many years and is delighted to be working with the Santa Fean and Essential Guide team. An abstract painter and former professional pianist, Emily also enjoys hiking throughout New Mexico and at the Grand Canyon.