I write these weekly posts pretty much on the fly. They are inspired by recent work, a museum visit, or some idea or reading that might pertain some interest to the lay reader of art. Now, I am about to try something new. I going to try to stitch together a series based on a recent visit to the Northern California coast, specifically Mendocino for the annual Mendocino Open Paint Out (MOPO), based at the Mendocino Art Center.
As a preface, it may be good to be aware that not all artwork is made in the studio. Likewise not all artwork is made out of doors. However, when a painter does set up outdoors and paints directly from what the painter sees in the given light, it is referred to by the French term, en plein aire, or in the plain air.
There is a history of painting out of doors before the use of the term was attached to painters. The etymology of Plein Air as a way of describing an artist who works outdoors from nature is typically placed around the time of the Impressionists around the mid-eighteen hundreds. Before that though, many of the artists who would later become known as Impressionists were inspired by a few Romantic painters in the French Barbizon Forest, radically painting directly from nature outside the studio! Thus the so called “Barbizon School” that some may be familiar with. Before the Barbizon School, English painters like John Constable and friends would take extended trips into the English countryside and paint on whatever was handy, like cardboard or wood as well as paper or canvas. These “sketches” would be the studies used to make a final work back in the studio. Whereas, for the plein air Impressionist, the sketch would be the final work, inspired and finished on the spot where the painter stood.
Today, Plein Air seems to have new connotations and meanings beyond the original use of the term. Regardless, it has been understood for centuries, by early Masters, Romantics, Impressionists etc, that to learn Nature’s secrets one must observe and note them by direct observation. The following few weeks I’ll be posting my results from participating in my first Paint Out. The world we share is everywhere we look. From the majesty of the tall trees, the solemn beauty of a sea side cliff, or the banality of alleyways and harbors in patchwork color, the artist’s eye seeks to compose, so, what should hopefully become apparent is the variety and comradery that occurs each day during an event like a Paint Out.