The St. Paul Art Crawl is just around the corner so it’s not too early to plan how you’ll navigate through so much art in so few hours (23 buildings, dozens of studios, 17 hours—do the math!). Every minute counts if you want to get the most out of this twice-a-year art ritual.
If your taste runs toward the eclectic, then meandering around St. Paul will work just fine. If, however, you have a preference for landscape art, and are especially captivated by the freshness and spontaneity of plein air work, then you’ll want to put these four sites on your itinerary. Together, they feature the fine work of eight award-winning Minnesota plein air painters.
First Stop: The Grand Hill Gallery
On your way to Lowertown, make your first stop the Grand Hill Gallery. Tucked into the intersection of Ramsey Street and Grand Avenue, this tiny gallery, although off the beaten track of the Crawl, is well worth a visit. The Grand Hill will be exhibiting the work of Stuart Loughridge, Joshua Cunningham, Neil Sherman and Mike Rada.
Loughridge is masterful in several media, including oil, watercolor, pen & ink, and intaglio. His lines are sure, his colors expressive, and his scenes—especially the travel series—will take your breath away. “Snowscape” is a somber scene with just a streak of fading sunlight that comforts and lifts the spirit. “Man on a Bench,” from Loughridge’s European travels, is an intimate and sensitive portrayal of an elderly man sitting alone, hands clasped—in anxiety? worry? anticipation of something good?—Loughridge leaves that mystery open for the viewer to explore.
Cunningham’s “Otto Avenue, Autumn” won a 2012 St. Paul Fall Art Crawl Media Award. His quiet, intimate scenes superbly capture nature’s lights and seasons. Cunningham’s colors and values will pull you into his paintings—you’ll feel the chill in the air, the sun on your face. His colors and compositions are brilliantly worked out, like the plot in a good mystery. “God and the Railroad” nicely plays off reds and greens, while the vertical church spire counterbalances the horizontal boxcars and tree line. “Otto Avenue” also makes interesting use of vertical and diagonal lines to keep the eye moving and the composition visually stimulating.
Grand Marais artist Neil Sherman paints the beauty and grandeur of the North Shore. From snow-covered palisades to menacing storm clouds, Sherman captures the energy, power and vastness of nature. Sherman’s night paintings—“Mortar Man” and “Hjordis In Festive Rigging”—are rare beauties within the genre of landscape art. The nuanced blacks and soft brushwork in “Hjordis” bring to mind Whistler’s nocturnes. Follow Sherman’s website and blog for news of his ongoing painting project along the Lake Superior Hiking Trail.
Mike Rada’s rich detail and unusual compositional angles give us a front-row view of nature. His smaller plein air work is loose and painterly, and his larger, more detailed studio canvasses (based on his plein air paintings) are engrossing and evocative. Rada clearly views nature as a living, breathing subject, and he conveys those qualities in his landscapes: trees, shadows, hills and meadows are vital, animated actors on the canvas. “Balancing Act’ is a portrait of a tree—as graceful, alive and vigorous as any human portrait.
The Grand Hill Gallery is located at 333 Grand Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55102. Contact them at (651) 227-4783.
Second Stop: The AZ Gallery
No doubt most of your Crawl tour will center on the Northern Warehouse Building, but as you enter the building, before heading upstairs, stop off at the AZ Gallery on the ground floor. Among the artworks will be the plein air paintings of Derek Davis. These tranquil scenes are rich in subtle color harmonies and value shifts. Davis’ oils and watercolors succinctly capture the feel of silent winter snow, morning mists, steamy summers and chilly autumn twilight. Davis’ work will remain at the AZ Gallery after the art crawl.
The AZ Gallery is located at 308 Prince Street, St. Paul, MN 55101. Contact them at (651) 224-3757.
Third Stop: Northern Warehouse Building
Abraham’s serene compositions are marked by fine brushwork and crystal-clear colors. In “Rustico Bay,” sea and sky are filled with intense blues, while the more subdued “Red Maple” glows in warm, earthy golds and greens. Abraham’s “The Crossing,” with vivid blues and greens against soft reds and greys, won a 2012 St. Paul Fall Art Crawl Media Award.
Duncan’s pastels and oils range from the bold and expressive “Early Morning Light” to the soft and nuanced “Shark’s Harbor, Catalina Island.” Duncan makes good use of the purity and brilliance of pastels, and the subtle tonal effects of oils.
Fourth Stop: Lowertown Commons
There’s one final stop to make on your plein air itinerary. Across the street from the Black Dog Cafe, on the first floor atrium of the Lowertown Commons, you’ll find the work of Don Biehn.
One of Minnesota’s finest impressionist painters, Biehn’s work is enchanting in its complex simplicity (not an oxymoron—see his work and you’ll likely agree). Biehn doesn’t overwhelm with detail; muted tones and elusive shapes are enough to create a scene packed with atmosphere. Enjoy Biehn’s work for its sheer painterly qualities—the texture of the paint; the way forms flow into one another; the delicate use of line. Biehn’s “Majestic Spires” won a 2012 St. Paul Fall Art Crawl Media Award.
Lowertown Commons is located at 300 East 4th St., St. Paul, MN 55101
The Crawl runs Friday October 12, Saturday October 13, & Sunday October 14. Check the website for maps and events schedule.
Photo: Richard Abraham, “Rustico Bay”