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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Betina Fink: Learning How to See and Be Mindful

Jun 29, 2020 03:20PM ● By Teressa J. Hawkins
How we look at art and how we create art is a lesson in mindfulness. We use skills of observation and focus on details. What we see is not always what others see, yet we both are drawn to the essence of the piece. Some of us have been fortunate to see the “Mona Lisa”, yet most can’t see the beauty. If we take the time to focus on the details of the painting, we can actually see the infamous smile. Tucson teaching artist Betina Fink shows her students how to “see” and be mindful.
Fink has always been engaged in teaching. She became a teaching assistant at the University of Arizona and taught at the Tucson Museum of Art School, where they had an in-depth program in the arts for children and adults. She taught adults in the Drawing Studio for 20 years, eventually starting a teen program in 2001. She also developed programs for middle and high school students in Tucson as a part of the Drawing Studio’s outreach programs.
Her own art journey began when she studied studio art and art history as an undergraduate. She then received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Arizona, and shortly after graduation in 1988, Fink moved to Amsterdam, where she lived and worked as an artist for seven years. “This helped form me as a mature artist and abstract painter,” she explains. “What I got from the master’s is the tradition and history of landscape painting. Some of the paintings or drawings they did are records of how things were back then.”
Art was more normalized in the Netherlands, according to Fink. It wasn’t considered unusual to be an artist and it was a respectable profession. Artists were a necessary part of life. Because of the government’s fostering of the arts, the Netherlands also had a strong contemporary art environment in painting and sculpture. “I saw the kind of art that was able to be produced because artists had help from the government in some ways,” says Fink. Studio tours of the city showed the studios and artwork throughout Amsterdam, with shows often held in repurposed old buildings, such as churches, hospitals and schools. Fink’s studies of egg tempera painting and the work of the Dutch Golden Age with masters Rembrandt, Vermeer and Flemish artists grounded her studio practice.
In 1992, Fink returned to the U.S. and did an “exchange show” in Tucson’s Dinnerware Gallery with a graduate school friend of hers, Joanne Kerrihard. She resided briefly at the Rancho Linda Vista artists’ community, while Kerrihard went to Amsterdam in her place to make art. A year later she decided to move back to the Ranch and remained there for almost 10 years.
The work that Fink did overseas was abstract, but in Tucson, the 80 acres of rolling desert land on the Ranch became very important to her and inspired her to change her path to landscape painting. Slowly, elements of landscape crept into the work. It was rustic and gave her a new feeling of freedom and love of nature. Fink
 abstracted desert plant forms and went out to do plein air, or outdoors, painting as a different art activity. She painted watercolor sketches in her sketchbook, getting ideas on the different plant forms utilizing color that was abstract.
Fink’s goal for several years has been to capture an experience of nature, the essence of the space, lines and land in front of her while painting outdoors. She uses landscape as a reference. “My work is not realistic, but somewhere between realism and abstraction,” she says. Collectors that enjoy her work like the expressive color and brushwork she uses.
Currently, Fink is teaching high school students at Salpointe Catholic High School. Her students at Salpointe learn how to see the world around us and be mindful. Fink feels that if given the right guidance, they are willing to take a risk and try something new. Students come out with a feeling of achievement and confidence. “Drawing is meditation, so having a serene atmosphere makes them appreciate coming to my classes,” she explains. “It’s relaxing and they are calm by the end of class.”
For the past seven years, Fink has also had a studio in the Metal Arts Village. Monthly, they have full moon shows and open the studios. This past February, she held a special show in her studio featuring other artists. After the long closures due to COVID-19, she plans to showcase local and regional artists with a quarterly exhibition of different artists’ work, aiming for a September opening.
An ongoing project for Fink has been recording and documenting endangered lands as part of her landscape studies. Several years ago there was a concern about the development of the Rosemont Mine, southeast of Tucson. The company that bought the mines and owns the land has been known for leaving behind destruction and not cleaning up after themselves. Fink decided to start making her landscape painting more serious to her by recording the places that were fragile, witnessing the beauty of the desert and using it as a basis for her subject matter.
When she moved here 30 years ago, Tucson was very different. “It changes so gradually you don’t see it, but I feel a need to capture it before it’s gone,” Fink says. “Everything is so fragile now. We need to get serious about the environment.”
In terms of the future, Fink says, “It will be interesting to see what the younger generation sees as important, and how they will bring people and artists together. I don’t know how as an artist I can change politics, but I can express my voice on
what I think is important to save the beauty of the natural world. That is what I am passionate about.”

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Teressa J. Hawkins is a freelance writer in Tucson. She is inspired by interviewing fascinating people. Her background is in the arts, communication and education. Connect at [email protected].