En Plein Air: Annual showcase by the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky opens Friday

Published 6:11 am Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Community Arts Center

The beautiful landscapes of familiar regional landmarks make the Community Arts Center’s “En Plein Air” exhibit a perennial community favorite.

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For the third year in a row, the Arts Center is pleased to showcase the work of the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky (PAACK), a regional group of multi-disciplinary artists who meet together throughout the year. During the winter months, the group gathers at the Arts Center for peer-led workshops. In the summer, they organize weekly “paint-outs” throughout the region.

“Back Yard Garden of Scott’s” by Ellen Teng.

This year, the PAACK “paint-outs” are being coordinated by Roni Gilpin of Waynesburg. The group meets at the beginning of the season to decide where they will gather each week, with an artist volunteering to “host” each of the gatherings.

The phrase “en plein air” refers to creating artwork outdoors. It is these summer landscapes that form the heart of the upcoming exhibit.

In addition to visiting public sites like the Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge and Constitution Square Park, the group enjoys visiting local homes, gardens and farms. A favorite location this year was Traveler’s Rest, a historic farm in Lincoln County owned by David and Roseanne Downey. The farm was the home of Isaac Shelby, Kentucky’s first and fifth governor. The group also had the opportunity to visit the Lexington home and gardens of the award-winning landscape designer Jon Carloftis.

While many of the paint-outs take place in and around Danville, the group is comprised of artists from throughout the region and the 2018 painting schedule includes visits to Berea, Paint Lick, Short Creek and Hogue Falls in Pulaski County and Cumberland Falls State Park.

Peggy Sherry, a watercolor and charcoal artist from Somerset, explained that plein air painting presents an enjoyable challenge to artists.

“Traveling to a beautiful or unusual destination is just the beginning,” she said. “You then look at the landscape in a way that evaluates light, shapes and colors. Transforming what you see and feel to a canvas is a huge challenge, especially if you are dealing with wind, weather and changing light.”

Many painters create their artwork based on photographs, but artist Sarah Wiltsee of Danville said plein air painting has some advantages working from a photograph.

“The colors have more shades and depths than you would see in painting from a photo,” she said. “You learn to capture the sky and reflections quickly because they change each hour as the sun moves from sunrise to sunset. There is also a vibrancy to the colors that you can only capture in open air painting.”

Artist Donna Forgacs of Danville agreed.

“Although photos are wonderful references to use when inside for studio work, a photo can never supply all of the information needed as does being outside. Painting en plein air connects all of your senses as you create a piece of art.”

Focus and concentration are themes echoed by many artists in the group when asked about the benefits of painting outdoors. Donna Elam of Danville said plein air painting appeals to her because she is easily distracted in her home studio.

“Creating my art outdoors requires me to focus on the moment, the colors, light, shadows, shapes,” Elam said. “The concept of time and schedule just float away and I’m at peace.”

Gilpin echoed those sentiments: “The plein air experience is about being cut off from all the things that usually interrupt you when you are working in the studio. It is just you, your materials and the subject matter. Plein air painting requires that you observe closely and take in the plethora of information inherent in the scene. Sometimes, you come up with a decent painting; many times you don’t. But you always learn something and I think that makes us all be better painters.”

Learning from each other is one of the advantages to the group paint-outs. Since they are all working from the same subject matter, they are able to encourage and support each other and offer suggestions.

“Painting with others gives you social interaction, an opportunity to learn from them, and an incentive to finish a piece quickly,” Forgacs said. “It makes it much more fun.”

“Lotus Fountain” by Marlene Hanna

The shared subject matter is something that appeals to Brandon Long, creative director of the Arts Center and curator of the En Plein Air exhibit.

“When I hang this show, I like to group the artwork together by location,” Long said. “It’s really cool to see how different artists choose to interpret and represent the same location. You get to see that location from multiple perspectives at once.”

The local and regional subject matter may also explain why the 2017 En Plein Air exhibit holds the distinction of generating the most art sales last year, said Executive Director Niki Kinkade.

“I think these pieces of art really resonate with our community,” she says. “They also tend to be modestly-sized and modestly-priced, making this exhibit a great opportunity to add a piece of locally-created artwork to your home.”

The Arts Center will host an opening reception for the En Plein Air exhibit 5:30-7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3. Guests will have the opportunity to meet the artists in the exhibit while enjoying light refreshments and beer and wine for sale by the glass. The reception is family-friendly and free to the public.