Painting: “Barn Final” by Rod Weagant
BY LAURELLE WALSH
Many artists in the Methow Valley derive inspiration from its widely varied mountain and valley landscapes, but only a few actually take their materials into the field and paint outdoors, or “en plein aire” as the French say.
Fewer yet employ the services of a pack goat to carry their art supplies up the trail, but Rich Davis, painter and co-curator of the Confluence Gallery’s new show, “Interpreting the Methow, Plein Aire to Studio,” is serious about continuing to paint in the field, even as his ability to carry a pack has diminished.
“I paint with oils, and my pack goat carries all my supplies into the hills of the Methow or the desert of Arizona,” Davis said. Davis winters in Ajo, Ariz., and paints desert scenes with a plein aire group there. He returns to the Methow to paint its landscape in the warmer months, making “a loose oil painting in the field to capture the light, the mood and get the colors right,” before taking the piece to his home studio to refine, he said.
Artists working from plein aire to studio is the common thread of “Interpreting the Methow,” which begins with an opening reception from 4-8 p.m. on Saturday (June 8) and runs until July 27.
Plein aire literally translates as “open air,” and started with the French Impressionists of the late 1800s who bucked their era’s predilection for highly stylized figures and went outdoors to swiftly capture a scene’s impression, according to the show’s co-curator Cheryl Wrangle.
Wrangle anticipates a wide variety of treatments from the more than 20 artists represented in the show. “I think we’ll see how plein aire can work into different people’s styles,” Wrangle said. “Each artist can work from nature and still maintain their own personal style.” Artists will display their final works alongside original studies created in the field.
Participating artist Caryl Campbell said, “I’m not what I would usually consider a plein aire painter” – one who creates a sketch outdoors and ultimately finishes a larger work in the studio – because her work is often based in her field journal, starting and ending in the field, she said.
Campbell often does a watercolor while she’s out with her weekly hiking group, The Grey Jays, whose members “all carry watercolors and paint on hikes now,” she said.
One of her pieces, “Upper Snowy Lake,” started with three 5- by 7-inch watercolor sketches she made on a hike above the headwaters of the Methow River. “There’s no way you’d carry oil paints all the way up there,” she said.
Working from the sketches at home, she completed a 38- by 42-inch oil painting that captures the lake and surrounding peaks. “The oil painting is very loose,” Campbell said. “It gives an impression of Upper Snowy Lake.” The small watercolors are glued to the large canvas, showing the progress of her work.
Winthrop watercolorist Paula Christen will show two pieces done in her studio from photos and sketches she made in May after post-holing to the Washington Pass overlook along the North Cascades Highway.
“It’s a very special place for me,” said Christen, who spent several seasons working for the U.S. Forest Service and helping visitors at the popular site. “It’s a pretty amazing view from up there …. You’re on a granite outcrop looking west toward the Liberty Bell spire that just grows out of the Cascades.”
Her two pieces, “Sentinals along the Route,” and “In Perspective,” show tiny human figures at the overlook rail looking out toward looming Liberty Bell and Kangaroo Ridge.
“When you are standing there everything just rises above you and you start to feel very small,” Christen said. Her work sketches are shown alongside the finished pieces in the show.
Other artists in the show include Wally Bivins, Rod Weagant, Mary Powell, Charlene Monger, Sue Marracci, Robert Nelson, Michael Caldwell, Ed Maher, Kathy Meyers, Suzanne Powers, Donna Keyser, Nora Eggers, Patty Yates, Gene Barkley, Robin Nelson Wicks, and Becky La Verne.
Confluence Gallery and Art Center is at 104 Glover St. in Twisp. Gallery hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 997-2787 or go to confluencegallery.com for more information.