What is Plein Air?
The Schneider Museum of Art launched Art Beyond (May 15th – July 18th) which paired artists with outdoor sites in and around Ashland, OR. Programming included What is Plein Air?, a three day plein air painting event on top of Mt. Ashland. Local artist, Sarah F. Burns, curated this group. What audiences will find in our Entry gallery are works completed by these artists during the three-day event as well as examples of the more completed studio-based artworks.
Artists include: Julian Bell, Sarah F. Burns, Lupe Galvan, Gabriel Liston, Phyllis Trowbridge, and Deb Van Poolen
What is Plein Air?
By Sarah F. Burns
Today, plein air painting is a popular artistic pursuit influenced by European artistic traditions. Scores of festivals, competitions and sales-events are held every year. Contemporary plein air painting is defined as the practice of starting and finishing a work of art outdoors, onsite, and in a single session. Artists have been going outside and making sketches for centuries; the French Impressionist painters famously finished paintings “en plein air”, building on the work of the Barbizon Group, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner before them. Twentieth and Twenty-first century painters Antonio Lopez Garcia and Rackstraw Downes have influenced a significant number of followers with their large, observational, and unblinking plein air paintings created over weeks, months and sometimes years.
What is Plein Air?, part of Schneider Museum of Art’s Art Beyond series of art experiences was a plein air painting event for accomplished plein air landscape painters who don’t fit into the mode of most contemporary plein air painting events. These six artists were invited to Mount Ashland June 11-13 to meet up, explore the unique Cascade Siskiyou region and do their thing. In this exhibition we contrast the artists’ Mount Ashland plein air work with work that illustrates their usual working practice.
David Gordon, Phyllis Trowbridge and Lupe Galvan prefer to work repeatedly on their plein air paintings, returning time and time again to develop the image. David Gordon has a meditative approach to painting and the intensity of his observation emanates from the finished work. Phyllis Trowbridge has begun to add multiple panels to her plein air paintings, ambitiously carrying what is needed out into the field, creating a composition with multiple connected pieces. Lupe Galvan works with front lit subjects, focusing on the design, color, shape and language of the landscape before him.
Julian Bell and Gabriel Liston start with brief notes or sketches and return to the studio developing their artwork without photo reference. Gabriel Liston tells a story in his work,
“I draw and paint as a documentarian, only sometimes
re-combining figures and settings to play with a concept,
never fully inventing, but the reality I want in my work is
the reality of dreams, where things are fully present and
Julian Bell has a vivid mind’s eye, creating disarmingly recognizable and at the same time strange images. His work often looks as if you have put on Warner Bros glasses and taken a walk through your neighborhood.
Deb Van Poolen spends an extensive amount of time outdoors, hiking and teaching art and natural studies. She creates composite landscapes that illustrate biodiversity in the Cascades and Siskiyou mountains. She works with biologists to create paintings that are accurate guides for key species in the region.
The long-planned weekend presented significant challenges due to weather. Spring had been mostly mild and pleasant up at the mountain until Friday, June 11, the first day of the event. The weather conditions were nearly impossible for painting. The temperature high was in the 40’s with strong wind, and scattered rain in the afternoon, yet the artists persevered. Fortunately, the Saturday and Sunday wind calmed and the temperature went into low 60’s.
Hallmarks of painting en plein air are dealing with wind, insects, sun, heat, cold, rain, lugging around heavy painting gear, forgetting stuff you need, pressure to find a composition and quickly changing light. If you look closely, you can usually find dirt, grass or insects imbedded in the completed paintings. These challenges are rewarded by the joy of the direct experience and the sublime exhilaration of being observant outdoors.
This event removed some of the sporting aspects of many contemporary plein air painting events, making it more of an experience for the artists than a performance for an audience. Cross-pollination of like-minded individuals was meaningful for these artists, especially after the long year of isolation during COVID-19. Gabriel Liston casually referred to our group as “off-brand plein air painters” which describes well the human need to find connection, and at the same time, stand apart. The group respects the tradition and practice of plein air painting while finding their own rhythm and pace, as you can see here from their diverse styles and approaches.
Sarah F. Burns
Sarah F. Burns
Deb Van Poolen