What would a collection of Minnesota’s best contemporary landscape paintings look like? Much like the “Outdoor Painters of Minnesota Member Show,” currently at the Frameworks Gallery in St. Paul. Over 51 members of OPM—the premier plein air painters’ association in Minnesota—contributed oils, watercolors and pastels, making this one spectacular exhibit.
As I viewed these paintings, what immediately struck me about the artists was their unique interpretations of nature; their personal use of color and brushstrokes; and their unapologetic attempt to seek and portray the ordinary, unsentimental beauty of the natural world. In an art market inundated with commercialized art and dealers who prefer branding, bling and shock to beauty, local plein air artists offer an honest vision and a breath of fresh air.
Seeing such a large plein air collection under one roof highlights the diversity in this genre. Even when painting the same slice of nature, every artist captures the light and translates it into color in their own inimitable way.
Denise Bunkert’s high-key pastel, “Purple Rain,” is a sea and sky scene bathed in light and atmosphere. Bunkert washes the sky with blue-violet warmed by touches of red, and brings the sea to life with rich yellows, greens and blues. Perhaps one cannot speak of lively brushwork in a pastel painting, but nevertheless, Bunkert’s work is charged with energy.
Andy Evansen’s watercolor, “Pilings, Red Wing,” is a tranquil scene of still water and clear skies, with a haze-covered sun in the right corner throwing warm light over the grass and pilings. Evansen’s colors are crisp and pure, with a remarkable variety of tonal values in the shadows. His deft brushwork produces smooth washes of color in the sky and water, with just enough detail to keep our eye moving.
Cheryl LeClair-Sommer’s “Carson Pass, Sierra Nevadas” is a light-filled atmospheric composition that sets a foreground of warm, brightly colored foliage against the varied and subtle grayed tones in receding mountain ranges.
Greg Lipelt’s exuberant hues in “Cherokee Park II, evening” are a bold and highly personal interpretation of local color. The high-key palette and colorful shadows give the painting a strong sense of light. Lipelt’s brushstrokes animate the solid, geometric shapes of the middle-ground buildings, and add to the lyricism of the graceful foreground trees.
Robert Hodges-Bonawitz’s “The Old Bridge” is a remarkable composition of light, shadows and reflections. The strong blues and bright yellows make us feel the chill in the stream and the warm sun on the rocks and trees.
A wise artist once said: “Nature never gives you painting.” Plein air painting is interpretation, not documentation. When composing a painting out of the jumbled mass of nature, artists make choices about what to put in and leave out, bringing order to complexity. Like style, composition is a personal choice, and the works in this exhibit show the varied ways plein air painters selectively transfer their perceptions onto a two-dimensional surface.
Joshua Cunningham’s “Bookends and Hopper Cars” is a simple, yet elegant arrangement of semi-abstract horizontal bands of close values, broken by a silhouette of vertical buildings at the horizon. There is both a vastness and intimacy in this painting: the wide sweep of the skyline is offset by the sense of being up close to the foreground objects. The colors of the setting sun filter around and through the buildings in a wonderful use of negative space.
Jack Dant’s “Catalina Pier Reflections” is an intimate scene of rocks, water and pilings, packed with interesting brushwork, dynamic movement, subtle tones and rich color. The placement of reds in the chain, rocks and pier footings moves the eye around the painting and enhances the rich dark greens and blues of the water and pilings.
In Judith Anderson’s “Farm House,” color, brushwork and composition come together to create a lively depiction of a country scene. Anderson uses short brushstrokes and broken color to enhance the vibratory effect in this red and green arrangement. The leaning tree on the left creates a tension that energizes the painting and keeps our eye moving.
Mood—a pervading feeling, spirit or tone, according to Webster—is probably the aspect of plein air painting that is most difficult to achieve, yet most essential for captivating a viewer.
Cheryl LeClair-Sommer’s “Split Rail Fence” uses close values to create mystery around a simple scene of nature encroaching on the remnants of an old, broken fence. There are lots of possible narratives in this scene; viewers are free to enter the picture space, and imagine and create their own.
Richard Abraham’s “County Road AA” takes us on a country road surrounded by green and yellow fields, and a clear blue sky. The mood here seems joyous and hopeful. Rolling hills give the scene flow and movement, and the vivid foreground colors create a rich, vibrant atmosphere.
Derek Davis’ “Lakeshore Property” is a serene lake view. The high horizon gives the painting a sense of vast calm, and the close values and subdued colors create a harmonious mood. The gentle sloping of the shoreline along the left side of the canvas enhances the peacefulness of the scene—there are no sudden movements in this placid sea, where two boats idle in the distance.
The work of the other 40 artists in the exhibit is equally impressive, and this show is definitely one to look forward to every year. The Frameworks Gallery is the perfect host for local artist shows, and we can only hope that the Outdoor Painters of Minnesota will continue holding their annual member show in this venue.
The show runs through December 29, 2012.
Contact the Frameworks for more information.
Janet Contursi has been a freelance writer for more than 23 years. She writes an art column for Southside Pride and art blogs for the Examiner and TC Daily Planet. Visit her ArtsMinnesota website and follow ArtsMinnesota on Facebook.
Image: Jack Dant “Catalina Pier Reflections”