Interview: Three Plein Air Painters @ C.R. Davidson & Cedarburg

Jun. 15, 2009
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As members of the Wisconsin Plein Air Painters Association, Marcia Boyd, Lynn Rix, and Pam Ruschman enter Plein Air Competitions throughout the summer. Trying to capture a moment of time and light unique to an outdoor setting the French term en plein air means "painting in the open air," a technique inspired by the late 19th century Impressionists that still motivates competitors and these three women to complete an entire image within a two-hour or one week time span. After the competition ends, jurors award honors and prizes to the artists while a silent auction allows buyers to purchase the freshly produced art. Last week at C.R. Davidson in The Historic Third Ward's Marshall Building, these three ladies opened their collaborative Plein Air Show on June 11. On June 18, The Cedarburg Plein Air Competition begins with the artists picking their chosen hour of day, light and setting while the judging and bidding happens on June 25. Meeting at C.R. Davidson's for their opening reception, Boyd, Rix, and Ruschman express the joys of Plein Air painting.

Q: Is this the first Plein Air competition of the season?

A: Usually Cedarburg begins with a June show for anyone who would like to paint, with both children and adult categories, and they often have over 100 artists, which is now in its [the competition] ninth year. Oconomowoc hosts a show, and Door County's show is in July. But that's for about 40 artists, and by invitation only. And in early September, Milwaukee hosts another show now downtown instead of on Downer. There's more all the time.

Q: What does the competition involve?
Rix: For the competition you need an authorized and stamped canvas by the judges. People usually use oils, but acrylics, watercolors, and pastels are also seen. There's a two-hour quick paint, where you completely finish and frame an entire painting in the two hours.
Boyd: The nature of plien air painting realizes the small piecesyou want to finish in a few hours.
Rix: So you're painting fast, and usually small scale. If you don't get the painting in two hours, the sun moves and the light is distilled.

Q: What's exciting about painting en Plein Air?

Ruschman: Capturing the moment, chasing the light. Because the light changes all the time.
Boyd: You paint wet on wet, and capture the atmosphere when there's no sunlight. It's really exciting to see the colors, hear the birdseven the mosquitoes. But you have to deal with the wind sometimes... it can blow your paintings over.
Rix: Painting plien air makes me very, much more aware of what I'm looking at when I'm out and about, or driving. I'm always more aware of what I'm seeing in the world, the beauty we often overlook.

Q: And the importance of the Plein Air Competitions?

Boyd: It elevates the public's awareness and knowledge of artthe process of making art.
Ruschman: At these competitions you hear the stories about what you're painting, a barn, a lake, and develop an emotional attachment [to the subject and painting].
Rix: We just go outside and paintlike I believe true painters paint outside. We have the ability and joy to capture that moment that people never see or appreciate before.
Ruschman: We have the honor of capturing the world differently.
Cedarburg Plien Air Painting Competition and Sale: June 18, Artists begin. Tuesday, June 23, Picnic for artists and public. Friday, June 26, Silent auction. Saturday, June 27, meet the artists, wine and refreshments. June 28-July 5, Post auction sale. For information: 262.236.0188


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