A few years ago, painter Tarryl Gabel gave me a tour of her favorite painting spots in the High Peaks region of New York’s Adirondack mountains. Among the places we stopped was a hayfield in either Wilmington or Jay—I can’t remember exactly where. I went back and spent the afternoon with the wild turkeys, watching the tip of Whiteface stir the clouds like a barista making latte art.
Sandra Hildreth is the founder of the Adirondack Plein Air Festival. In addition to being a fine painter, she is a dedicated hiker and naturalist. Last week she posted a painting of Whiteface with foreground meadows. Was this that farm off Route 86, I wondered.
“Did you sneak through some woods?” she asked me. No, I hadn’t. “Same mountain, different viewpoint,” she answered.
That’s plein air painting in a nutshell. A few days ago I wrote about Paul Cézanne’s love of Mont Sainte-Victoire in Provence. As many times as he painted it, it never looked the same twice. He was happy to welcome his fellow painters and friends to his field studio on Les Lauves. He knew that whatever they painted, it would be the same side of the mountain, but a different viewpoint.
That tour Tarryl gave me was right before the Adirondack Plein Air Festival in Saranac Lake. The next day, we would be competing for sales and prizes. Last year I gave Daisy de Puthod a similar tour in advance of Castine Plein Air. We can either jealously guard our gnosis about the landscape, or we can freely share it. I strongly recommend the latter. The mountain isn’t what’s important. What’s important is the viewpoint.
Tarryl’s calm radiates through her paintings. I’m frenetic. Thus we could both paint the exact same view of Whiteface from Cherry Patch Pond and they would end up being entirely different paintings. Sandra responds to the majesty of the mountains and their secret wild fastnesses. Her Whiteface looms over the canvas, grand, majestic and imposing. Mine, from the same angle, is apparently doing the tango with the clouds.
There can be a hundred similar views of Mt. Katahdin or the Rockland light, but only one that matches your viewpoint. That’s the painting you should own. Not the one that the gallerist says will appreciate, or is done by a rising or famous painter. Buy the one that clicks with you, and you will never go wrong.