I spent 4 days participating in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air 2017 event at Maryhill Museum, on the Columbia River Gorge. It was a grueling affair, with temperatures as high as 110 degrees. There were 42 artists involved, and the event culminated in a month-long exhibition at Maryhill Museum, where it will hang until August 27th.
Because of the excessive heat, along with the parameters of the competition, the event became a bit of an endurance test. One must create a minimum of 4 paintings in 4 days. Since the 4th day is devoted to framing, the inevitable touchup and delivery to the museum, there are really only three days to do the paintings. For me that meant doing 4 alla prima studies as quickly as possible so that I could go find a cold beer. I was joined by my friend John Laney, and on one occasion we found the heat so oppressive that we opted for the beer without the painting as prelude.
At the outset of the event there was a post on facebook that addressed a controversy re. what is truly plein air. Must it be done in total on site, or can one work on it in the studio? If worked in the studio, what percentage is permissible? I always look to the old masters for answers to these questions, and I find that the men who virtually invented the art of painting en plein air did not fetishize the process, but did what they felt the painting demanded. They painted outdoors, finished indoors, used photo references at times, and did all in a spirit of lively experimentation. They did not valorize process over results. Posting these mundane observations got me blocked by one purist amongst the ‘pleinairistas,’ but also collected some ‘likes’ as well.
The real value of these events is the opportunity to network with other artists. I often wonder if we couldn’t get beyond the need to turn these gatherings into a competitive blood sport, they might resemble the convivial gatherings of the old art colonies that populated Europe and America at the turn of the last century. I enjoyed seeing some old friends, Cathleen Rehfeld Meyers, Celeste Bergin, etc., and meeting some new ones, Thomas Kitts, Aaron Johnson, Bhavani Krishnan and Matt Sterbenz.
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Many years ago, when my mother was still alive, she asked me to do a painting of lightning over Spirit Lake, Idaho. Spirit Lake is where I was born, and where my family had lived for the first seven years of my life. My parents had a long history in that small town. Lightning storms over the lake were tremendous and thrilling occurrences for a young child, and I can remember them well. This painting was the result of her request, and was conjured up from my memory.
From 1989 to 1997 I lived with a woman named Christel Kratohvil. At that time she was a talented painter, but also very temperamental. My late friend Mark Perry claimed that she was as “crazy as a peach orchard boar.” We lived first on Queen Anne, then moved into a large live/work space in the Sunny Arms art cooperative. We also spent a few years living in the top floor of the Horton Bank Building, a constantly leaking 9 rooms in Georgetown. We traveled to California together, as well as Chicago, Washington DC, New York, Denver, etc. We made many trips to Portland OR, as I was showing at Elizabeth Leach Gallery then. Our relationship eventually collapsed amidst constant bickering and endless arguments, the subjects of which continually eluded me. Christel eventually ran off with a Flamenco dance cult, and took her mala leche with her.
This painting was done very rapidly in the studios we shared at Sunny Arms. Christel didn’t like to pose, and I had to work quickly. I’ve never been sure if it is truly finished, and she eventually gave up posing altogether. It was around this same time that the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance was founded, in the same studio.
This painting was begun over a year ago. It had been painted during the midsummer months where everything is boringly green. I had never been completely satisfied with it, so decided to rework the painting in mid-spring, hoping that the more dynamic range of tertiary colors and deeper atmospheric perspective would make a more interesting image.
The initial stages of this reworking corresponded to the first day of my plein air painting class. This photo represents that first day of work. It was a beautiful day at the landing, with lots of children, their parents, and squawking ducks.
You can see a comparison of this reworking with the painting that it covers over on my Painter’s Workshop page.
I’m currently having a sale on Plein Air Class sessions and Online Critiques. If someone close to you is interested in painting on site, or could use some advice from a well-known artist with almost 50 years of experience, both painting and exhibiting, this would be a good time to make a gift of lessons or critiques. Prices have been been substantially discounted for this sale, with savings of over $100 for Plein Air Classes, and discounts of almost 50% for Critiques. Check out my.
Update: This sale is officially over.