Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thoughts on painting, "En Plein Air"



I've painted, en plein air, from Maine to Washington state. I've stood on the dock painting lobster boats as they came in from lobstering and traded paintings to lobstermen for a sack full of lobster. Parked on the roadside painting landscapes of the Rockies or Wallowas, folks stop, look over my shoulder and take photos of me painting the landscape. We trade email addresses and they send me photographs, sometimes we trade paintings.
Whether painting on the side of the road or the wilderness, the thing I like about plein air painting are the 'Paintouts'. Paintouts have become a popular way for galleries, festivals and communities to ramp up the exposure to art. Such events are an opportunity for artists to meet other artists and compare their work. Galleries and community art festivals get an opportunity to showcase their local artists and invite outside artists, sometimes of great stature, to their community, which can be a great economic boon to all parties. Artists are invited to "paint the town", after a day or two, paintings are collected for a show and reception where the work is displayed, and awards presented. It's a great way for art to bring artists and the public together. The public gets to see artists at work and are thrilled to find ordinary scenes brought to life by gifted painters.
Artists have always turned to nature for both inspiration and knowledge. The Impressionists made a practice of working directly from nature. Today painting "en plein air", literally, painting "out of doors", has become something of a movement along with an interest in "daily painting" in which painters challenge themselves to do a painting a day. Google 'daily painting' and you will find blogs and websites displaying extraordinary galleries of artwork. Many of these pieces are available directly from the artist or sold at auction on Ebay for very reasonable prices.

Painting 'en plein air' fits our busy lifestyle. In an abbreviated world of acronyms and sound bites, small quick paintings done on the spot, are only appropriate. It is the artist freezing a moment of time, focusing like a Zen master and deriving inspiration from an intense reflection upon nature, like haiku poetry, distilling the moment into it's essence. A process where the heritage of the Impressionists meet the oriental art of Zen masters.

Much has been written about the Impressionists' interest in oriental prints. I think they were as interested in the process as much as the product. Untill Monet and the Impressionists took painting out of the atlier and Salon into the streets and forests, official art was considered to be work done in the studio. To consider work done "in the moment", on site, en plein air, was revolutionary. We can thank Monet for elevating everyday scenes to the extraordinary and bringing art to the common man. Painting was no longer an activity for the affluent but something anyone could do. With the advent of paint in tubes, artists developed a portable studio. The french easle and pochade to carry wet canvas, became synonymous with the image of the artist at work.
It is a privledge to make a living as an artist but it is also a job that puts bread on the table. Like a carpenter or plumber, doctor or dentist the artist and his tools find work enhancing our lives and culture, turning the mundane into the thing of beauty to be appreciated in our busy hyphenated lives.


Visit my Blog about my painting at http://http://www.pleinairartist.blogspot.com/
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