Gaylen Hansen, 1987

Landscape with Dog Heads, by Gaylen Hansen, 1987

Gaylen Hansen’s penchant for storytelling is reflected in paintings—which feature animals, insects, trout, and a beleaguered frontiersman called “the Kernal”—evocative of the fabulous tall tales of American folklore.

Hansen distorts scale and plays with logic: grasshoppers might appear larger than cars, and buffalo might stand on their heads. “Much in this world is upside down,” he says. “When you turn things upside down you also know what is right side up.” Hansen designs his compositions so that “the ground shapes the figures and the figures shape the ground.” The completed painting is a “revelation,” resulting from an intuitive process he likens to jazz improvisation.

Hansen grew up on a farm in Utah and has lived in the country most of his life. After earning an MFA from UCLA, he moved to Washington in 1957. He taught art at Washington State University, Pullman, for 25 years. In the 1970s, Hansen “quit trying to keep one step behind the latest art movement” and focused instead on what he saw in his backyard.