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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Painting en plein air

Painting landscapes en plein air is the most liberating artistic experience I have had in years. At first, I characterized it as simply a change in genre. My artistic pursuits up until this point had been focused purely on portrait and figurative painting in a photorealistic style. Because I had no real history in landscape painting, no standard, no tested and tried technique to hold myself up to, the painting process was blown open to experimentation. The studio techniques I had developed to achieve translucent flesh tones (through many layers of glazing) suddenly became not only irrelevant but indeed impossible to utilize in a painting that had to be completed in one sitting. The limited palette I had become accustomed to in my figurative works no longer satisfied the diversity of color found in nature. And even the focus of my attention to accurate proportion (so imperative in portrait painting!) became remote in the grand scheme of a landscape.

But beyond the techniques associated with a genre, painting en plein air demanded something entirely new of me as an artist. It required that I relinquish control. I was no longer in my studio at midnight, painting on my own time from a photographic reference that never moved, with a light source that remained strong and constant.

Out in the open, everything changes moment by moment. Clouds collect and scatter in a matter of seconds, winds gust through grasses, rattle the easel, and threaten to whisk the canvas off into the mud. Pools of light kiss tree tops into neon and then drop them into a deep green umber. “Chasing the Light” became a response to the the kind of spontaneous action that painting en plein air embodies. It demanded that I make strong decisions and stick to them, no matter how different the scene may look 5 minutes later. Every stroke counted. And paint could just paint.