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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Plein Air at Art*Bar

Outdoor paintings on display at Riverwest tavern

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“We Came We Saw We Painted” is an exhibition by Wisconsin Plein Air Painters Association artists on view at Art*Bar in Riverwest. Plein air is the lovely French term for paintings done outdoors, or put another way, in the plain air. 

Some of the most well-known artists who followed this method were the Impressionist painters. In 1870s France, they were a pretty radical bunch, but once the shock wore off over what they were doing, their painting techniques gained currency. The lasting effects of their methods and style can be seen in abundance here as plenty of artists follow in those footsteps, traipsing out to hills and fields far and wide to make art.

Some of the places in these paintings are familiar, like Judith VanGernert’s Port Washington Light. She shows two pieces together, as do many artists in the show, and this adds an interesting twist to the plein air idea. These pairs are frequently the study done on location and the other is the studio version. VanGernert initiates her project in watercolor and recreates the idea in oil paint. The composition is adjusted slightly and the atmosphere changes, from the somewhat darker, more pensive hues in watercolor to brighter, sunlit tones and thick impasto in the studio version.

There is a sense of immediacy in the framed studies and specificity of time and place. Lynn Rix’s snowy December 12th is a winter field dappled with burnished red bramble and blue shadows. The studio painting it inspires, First Snow, follows the field study closely but with a clearer touch for the details. Bramble becomes taller, stands up straighter and a neat path appears in the field.

Can you go back again and catch the same feeling? It is like recreating a memory and getting a do-over the second time around. The exhibition offers a peek into the artists’ working methods and development of ideas. As a viewer, perhaps you’ll come away with a preference for the brash impulses of first thoughts or a taste for studied brushwork of places reimagined and revisited.

“We Came We Saw We Painted: Wisconsin Plein Air Painters” is on view through June 26 at Art*Bar (722 E Burleigh St.).