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Art in Bloom

Author: Judy Harper
Issue: March, 2017, Page 108
Photos by David B. Moore

Hesson, seen here in her home studio, says it takes her several months to complete one of her paintings
From Petal to Pigment, Painter Dyana Hesson Sheds Light on Nature’s Best

Passionate about art and Also a keen gardener, artist Dyana Hesson has a way with plants and paint. She combines these interests to preserve extraordinary moments in nature, from the sculptural qualities of seed heads before they scatter to the wind to fond memories associated with a hand-picked bouquet.

Energetic, brightly colored botanical still lifes are the signature of the painter, who is known for her skillful use of light, color and shadows. Plants thrive in her artwork, which look so realistic one is tempted to stop and smell the blossoms. Created with heart and soul, her creations soothe, heal, relax and invigorate.

Hesson’s love of nature began when she was a young girl tending her family garden in California. “We always had vegetables, flowers, hanging plants, succulents and hummingbird feeders,” she reminisces. “On weekends, we would go to the nursery to pick out plants, add them to the garden, pull weeds and try to keep the deer away. My oldest brother was so interested in gardening that my dad built a greenhouse, and we raised worm beds. I was the one who would take bags of zucchini and tomatoes to the neighbors when we had too many.”

Artist Dyana Hesson based her “Fairyblooms, Succulents in the Light of Day,” oil on canvas, 50”H by 40”W, on a photograph taken by a succulent grower who she follows on social media. “It was fun collaboration,” she says of the project.
Hesson fondly recalls a trip to Sea World at the age of 8. Her father gave her an Instamatic camera, and while she delighted in photographing the animals and birds, it was the hues and contours of leaves and petals that truly caught her eye. “Gardening was part of our family culture, so it was only natural for me to photograph plants and flowers—anything with texture.” She graduated to her father’s old 35 mm camera while still in elementary school and her passion for nature flourished.

Hesson initially floundered as a college student, earning average grades and changing her major several times. After her husband, Randy, suggested she try fine arts, Hesson discovered her gift of painting in an art class at Arizona State University. She went on to make the dean’s list, graduating magna cum laude in 1991, and never looked back.

Her husband’s career took them to Michigan, where Hesson developed her distinctive painting style—bringing beautiful details of each fragile leaf and bloom of a plant into a large scale, with a striking luminous quality and impressive use of shadows. After a few years, the couple anxiously followed the sun back to the Southwest where color and light are ever-present. Although she has explored tropical blooms, garden flowers, roses and landscapes, Hesson says she always returns to the desert. She prefers plants that display texture and shapeliness and cannot resist the twists and turns of an agave, the translucence of prickly pear blooms and the plump leaves and colorful hues of succulents. “The agaves grow so gracefully, they are like sculptures that change and gain more character over time.”

“Beauty and the Beast, Agave and Primrose,” oil on canvas, 30”H by 40”W, was inspired by a springtime walk through the wildflower garden at Desert Botanical Garden. “I love how the primrose wove in and out of the agave,” Hesson says.
The landscape outside her Mesa door serves as Hesson’s inspiration. With a case of incurable wanderlust and a love affair with God’s creation, she begins each day with a short hike with her faithful companion, Boon Doggle, a Jack Russell terrier, by her side. “We do a couple miles every morning, rain or shine,” she notes. “I think, pray and get ideas when I walk. It just gets everything flowing for me. I’m usually in the studio by 9 a.m. and at the easel until the end of the day, although sometimes dinnertime will come and I think, ‘Do we really have to eat?’ I guess I’m a workaholic, but when you get to do what you love, it’s really not work.”

The artist frequently visits Desert Botanical Garden, Boyce Thompson Arboretum and Mesa Community College Rose Garden for inspiration. When time allows, she cherishes a more rigorous hike into the Superstition Mountains or Grand Canyon. No cell phone, no interruptions, just time for gratitude—and hundreds of photographic reminders of nature’s bounty that she will later translate to canvas, offering viewers an insight into the world as she experiences it. “It’s always a mad dash in spring to capture blooms at their peak,” Hesson says, noting that because nature is in constant change, there is a sense of urgency to snap the perfect photograph to capture the changing light, weather conditions and deepening shadows of the moment. “My friends will call and tell me their such-and-such is blooming, and I’ll rush over because these moments are temporal and only happen once.”

Hesson found these cactus blooms in a close friend's backyard. They were all that remained after javelinas had attacked the garden. She titled the work “Veronika’s Garden, Two Captive Blooms” oil on canvas, 40"H by 30"W.
“Dyana’s paintings transport the viewer into the immediacy of nature without ever leaving their home,” explains Christi Bonner Manuelito of Scottsdale’s Bonner David Galleries. “She has the ability to capture the simple yet elegant features of her subjects with the seamless cascade of light. Her works don’t compete with our incomparable Western landscape; instead, in her 25-year career, she has mastered capturing the finest aspects and features of the desert. Her paintings are not only collected locally, but global art lovers enjoy taking a piece of her desert with them as they remember the best of the Southwest.”

Denise Milano, owner of Mesa design showroom CoCo Milano’s, which showcases Hesson’s giclées, also is eager to sing Hesson’s praises. “Dyana’s paintings stop you in your tracks—that’s the reaction we see often as customers enter our shop,” she states. “Our clients have fallen in love with Dyana’s work. They adore the bold, beautiful statement it makes in their homes. We appreciate that she is a local artist creating work that reflects our unique lifestyle in the Southwest. Her work is so real it draws you in and is a delight to collect.”

A warm, generous and gentle woman, Hesson takes tremendous pride in her work. She credits her family for much of her success, insisting that her artwork is a family affair. Her daughter, Sydney, helps with notecards, emails, video and photography, while Randy tends to business matters and is the ultimate critic. “We’ve been married 31 years now, and when I met him he said he was terminally honest and would always tell me the truth. When I finish a painting after a month or more of work, I invite him into the studio and he will tell me this area is splotchy or he doesn’t understand why the puddle is in that direction. I’m a clinically frustrated perfectionist and really appreciate and need that honesty because it is so important to me to offer my very best. It is such a blessing for me to do what I do, and I don’t take it lightly when someone lays down their hard-earned cash for a painting.

“If a piece of art moves you and you love it, if you stand in front of it for more than five minutes and for whatever reason it speaks to you, take it home,” she advises potential collectors. “Unlike the upholstery of the day, art is forever and is created to stand the test of time. If you buy what you love from a reputable working artist, it will appreciate, and someday your kids will be fighting over it—not only because of its value but because it reminds them of you.

Photos - From left: Hesson spotted the blooming aloe seen in “Arizona Bonfire,” oil on canvas,
36"H by 24"W, along the path at Desert Botanical Garden. Its glowing light reminded her of her college days when she and her friends would head to the beach and how the amber light of the bonfires would illuminate their faces.

Of “Rooted and Established in Love,” oil on canvas, 60"H by 40"W, Hesson notes, "When plants take root, and the conditions are favorable, beautiful things happen."

“I am on a mission to create beautiful things,” she adds with believable passion. “Life is really hard, and there are some truly heartbreaking days. There are artists who create controversial, edgy and even offensive works, but I think we have enough of that in this world. My goal is to create something beautiful where you can rest your eyes and know that everything is OK.”

With Red Mountain in the background, the artist enjoys a walk on one of the many trails in her neighborhood, where she often can be found sketching images for new paintings
2017 Masters of the Southwest Award Winner

The Sonoran Desert’s natural beauty has inspired many great artists—from painters to sculptors to photographers—to capture its shapes, textures and coloration. And nothing is more entrancing than desert plants, which have been a perennial favorite thanks to their graphic silhouettes and richly hued blooms. But one painter of Arizona’s botanicals stands out in a category of her own: Dyana Hesson. Her intricately detailed oil paintings reflect the Southwest’s delicate florals and succulents in an astonishing study of light and color.

For the past 25 years, Dyana has been creating vivid paintings of agaves, prickly pears, roses and other plants and flowers found in and around the Valley. Whether she’s focusing on the sharp point of a succulent’s leaf or the brilliant hues of a tight cluster of blooms, Dyana’s reverence for her subjects is obvious. Her images are technically perfect; no detail is overlooked, from the dusty appearance of a flower’s anther to the sharp point of a cactus spine. Working with thin layers of carefully blended oils, Hesson reproduces the subtle variations of green in a juicy succulent or the diaphanous glow of an opuntia blossom against a black background. The result both complex yet effortless, luminous yet rich in color.

That is why we at Phoenix Home & Garden are proud to name her a Masters of the Southwest award winner. Congratulations, Dyana!

-The Editors
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