Tomorrow morning I will head to the mouth of the Ducktrap River to paint with the northern chapter of Plein Air Painters of Maine (PAPME). This is the same group that is showing at University of Maine-Presque Isle, and I promised more information about that.
The works of more than twenty Maine painters will be on display at the Reed Gallery from May 2 to June 19. This large, airy gallery was recently renovated and is in the Center for Innovative Learning (known to curmudgeons like me as the library).
The gallery will hold a First Friday reception on May 6 from 5-7 PM, with a gallery talk at 5:30.
The best part of this show is that PAPME has arranged for a paint-out in Presque Isle for that weekend. The PAPME painters are a highly-skilled lot, and there’s much natural beauty in that area. I particularly love the Aroostook River and its tributary, the Presque Isle Stream, as they wind slowly toward the St. John River.
(Sadly, I won’t be painting with my peers that weekend; I have a wedding to attend in New York.)
Today a student asked me, “what does plein air’ mean?” The term itself is a loan-phrase from French, meaning, simply, open-air painting. The French have another term for this kind of work: sur le motif, or “on the ground,” which implies painting what someone actually sees rather than a stylized, studio piece.
I like the latter better, because it tells you something about what the artist strives for—to reproduce the lighting, scene and visual conditions of a time and place. For many trained artists, this is where the rubber meets the road. Observation of transitory conditions, in all kinds of weather, is actually much more challenging than studio work, where the composition and lighting are static and decided before you start. But it’s also infinitely more satisfying and real. Judging by its growing popularity among both artists and buyers, I’m not the only person who thinks that.
If you want to understand the technical side of painting, watch a plein air painter. He or she isn’t full of academic ideas about the meaning of art; the challenge is to put something down on canvas that speaks to others. May’s Presque Isle show will be an opportunity for just that. Start at the gallery and ask them where you can find some of the painters at work. Best fun ever.