Reno-based artist Hannah Eddy, in her bold paintings and murals, strikes a balance between fun visuals and fervent reminders of what we have to lose with climate change.
RENO—If you’ve spent any time in Reno recently, you might have seen one of Hannah Eddy’s murals: a Midtown wall splashed with characters and colors, or a concrete corner adorned with a cheerful snail and psychedelic flowers. Eddy’s booth was a bright presence at the recent Reno Tahoe International Art Show—she also created an original design for the event, which was featured on tote bags, posters, and stickers. The image, which shows a colorful assemblage of flora, fauna, and the Truckee River, also features three words: “Reno. Who knew?”
The idea was to highlight the unique, understated character of the city. “I fell in love with the weirdness [of Reno],” Eddy explains, “and the accessibility to nature, even from a city. You can’t even put your finger on it, and I like that.”
Eddy defies categorization, too. She’s equal parts painter, muralist, and brand designer, though making accessible public art is her real raison d’être. The Reno-based artist takes a playful approach to environmentalism with her detailed designs—both joyful and a little mournful—that paint a full picture of the sublimity of the natural world, but she isn’t neutral about the issue of preservation. Her strategic use of language adds a lightly directive quality to her work: she beckons us to follow Mother Nature’s lead, appreciate what we have, and accept the good and bad in stride.
The artist, who is originally from Maine, grew up entrenched in snowboarding and skate culture, and those influences are evident in her vivid color palettes, bold line work, and graphic dynamism. She had traditional training in oil painting but started collaborating with snowboard and skate companies right out of college, then began dabbling with small murals. “This pro snowboarder-turned-muralist invited me to a mural festival after I’d done a few small free walls,” Eddy recalls. “I met a bunch of other very generous muralists there, and I felt like I went to mural school for a week.”
Now, Eddy’s ebullient imagery moves seamlessly across media. “I need to do a bunch of things at once,” Eddy admits. She partners with environmental organizations and outdoor and apparel companies like Patagonia and Dakine on branded designs, paints in her Reno studio, and creates murals locally and across the country. Whether she’s working on a board, a small canvas, or a massive mural, the same characters—most often women and animals—appear. “I’ll sketch something and not know if it’s going to be a painting or a mural,” Eddy says. “Sometimes it’s begging to be giant, and sometimes it’s a watercolor on paper.”
Eddy plays with scale in more ways than one. Her murals frequently feature technicolor mountains and forests, but some elements are intentionally blown up and exaggerated. “I like to incorporate the small things, like flowers, bees, and snails,” Eddy explains, to emphasize the details we tend to overlook. In one of her murals, a frog may be as big as a tree; mushrooms and snails can be the main features of a series of paintings. “If we can appreciate all those little things,” Eddy continues, “we realize they all lead up to this big planet and environment. These little everyday pieces of nature remind us that we’re part of it, all connected.”
This very measured didacticism defines Eddy’s approach to environmentalism, which relies on a thoughtful balance of playfulness and gravitas to convey the importance of preservation. “There’s so much doom and gloom in the world—it’s easy for us to go down those paths when we’re wondering what’s going to happen to the planet,” she explains. “When you love something, you want to protect it. We can have fun out in nature, but don’t we want to care for it so other people can enjoy it in future generations?”
The joy in Eddy’s art is palpable. Mountains and trees pop in shades of purple, blue, and green. Women in motion, or “flow,” as Eddy describes it, move across canvases and walls with elongated limbs. Yolky suns and wavy rainbows frame scenes with smiles.
Still, a closer look at Eddy’s work reveals slightly sinister details—memento mori. Pastel pink flowers grow from skulls’ empty eye sockets; cobwebs stretch across animals’ stylized bodies; deep red flames flank mountains and trees. In the visual language she’s created, life and death coexist, giving meaning to each other. “From death comes life, and without bad there’s no good,” Eddy says. “I come at it through a lighthearted lens, but there are these reminders in my work.”
Many of Eddy’s pieces also feature minimal but evocative phrases, some integrated into the designs, some more evident above the scenes, which lightly guide the visuals of each piece. “Part of it all”; “It is all temporary”; “find your flow”—the phrases are intentionally vague. “The words will come to me when I’m out mountain biking and hiking and snowboarding—when I’m in the moment,” Eddy explains. “I like to be able to have several meanings in a phrase. The words I incorporate are just patterns from life, the things I want to remember.”
The dual act of highlighting the little things while invoking the bigger picture is both a personal and practical approach. Eddy doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she does want to cultivate a more robust awareness of and appreciation for the natural world. The key to this, as Eddy sees it, is accessibility. “It’s easier for me to wrap my brain around things I can do,” she explains, “like riding my bike to the store, or planting a garden.” With her art, she transforms the overwhelming question of climate change and the issue of environmental preservation into a more manageable, individualized issue.
“I love and could never give up public art,” Eddy adds. “It’s for anyone, and no one has to pay to see it, and there’s no barrier to entry. That keeps me going. I don’t think I could continue an art practice without that,” she says.