Artist Hadley Ferguson's collection of small landscapes are more concerned with light than historical details or scale.
The Missoula native is best known for her murals, such as the "Heart of Missoula" historical mural downtown on the corner of Broadway and Higgins. More recently, she undertook a lengthy mural project, "Women Build Montana," for the state Capitol in Helena, unveiled in 2015.
Those panels measured 5 by 10 feet. Her new paintings at the Radius Gallery condense the imagery to fit in on a petite 5-by-5 inch canvas up to 24 by 30.
Most are lands around Montana, with a few in Canada or farther afield, with the viewers' eye drawn upward. "That's the part that I like: the light from the sky and how it interacts with the landscape," she said.
Ferguson, who is allergic to the chemicals in oil paint, prefers liquid acrylic, a more watercolor-like variant of the plastic-based paint. First, she coats the canvas with a gesso and gel medium that builds a thick, brushed surface and then applies the colored acrylic. "The paint doesn't fill in perfectly, so it creates a play with texture," she said.
For source images, she turned to friends and family, some of whom are have photography training and others who have an eye for a good skyscape. Former gallery owner Geoff Sutton provided a few pictures, including a river scene in Patagonia. Carolyn Meier, a collaborator on a Parkinson's project, has given her a number of pictures.
Aside from a night-time alley scene that appears as though it could've been taken around the core of the city, most train her attention to the sky. "Usually the sunsets and sunrises have the most light reflecting color throughout the sky in unusual ways," she said.
In a few images, she's carefully disguised the smoke from last summer's fires. In Missoula Valley scene, it could just be low-lying inversion. In a scene from Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, the haze engulfing Mount Clements takes on a pretty but eerie quality as the white light from the sun tries to break through.
The small scale of the pieces has another source. Almost 10 years ago, Ferguson was diagnosed with Multiple Systems Atrophy, a form of Parkinson's disease, a degenerative condition. The larger canvases she used to paint, and the broader arm movements, are too tiring now. She forged ahead through the mural project, using the same minute brush strokes for the large pieces that she has for these new ones.
With a small canvas, "it's all focused more in front of me," she said.
Besides, she said there's something nice about the smaller size, in terms of wall space and price for people who might hesitate before investing in a full-sized painting.
She's shown her work multiple times at the Radius, where she's been represented for several years.
Co-owner Lisa Simon said she likes "the notion of memory that comes from photographs."
The intimate scale works well, too. "She's such a big part of our community and artistic community with her murals, both in the Capitol and Missoula," Simon said. "There's something loving and delicate about these."