It was Jane Meyer’s dream to create a new kind of plein air art show. Literally.
“It came to me in the night,” she says. “I woke up with the idea.”
Meyer, owner of Authentique and The Mission galleries in St. George and Illume in Salt Lake City, represents some of the best plein air painters in the nation. Of the dozens of artists in her three galleries, nearly all of them are nationally known.
Many of them gather in the spring at Ancestor Square in St. George for her annual New Visions Art Show. They all demonstrate their work, painting from photos or just using the scenery around them, “en plein air”-style. “En plein air” is a French term for “in the open air.” Events like New Visions or the Zion National Park Plein Air Art Invitational in November gather artists together to a single location for the event.
Meyer’s idea was different. Rather than bringing all the artists to one spot, they would simply paint wherever they happened to be around the world. But they would all paint on the same three days. Those interested in “attending” the event just had to have access to an electronic device with Internet capabilities.
Throughout the three-day event, the artists would paint one piece a day and record their process—often only using smartphones—through three videos each day. The first video would indicate the artist’s location and what he or she was about to paint. The middle video would show the progress of the piece and talk about the artist’s process. And the final video would show the finished painting.
Meyer says the idea was partially inspired by how the Internet, and especially social media, have changed the game of the art world. Although she claims to not have much technical know-how, she knew her employees would be up to the task of bringing her idea to life.
The show, titled “Where In The World Is …,” debuted in 2014 and it was immediately popular, catching the attention of other national artists and art magazines. While the 2014 show featured only 47 artists from Meyer’s three galleries, the 2015 show more than doubled that amount by adding in outside artists, bringing the total to 100 participants.
“They are literally from all over the world,” Meyer says, listing artists from Australia, Canada and Great Britain among the participants. “It’s become an internationally-known show in just its second year. There has never been a show like this, ever. We are the first one.”
This year the show ran from Wednesday through Friday. I decide to visit the website, WhereInTheWorldIsPleinAir.com, for the first time Wednesday evening.
My first click is the name of my friend Cristall Harper, a northern Utah artist who typically paints brilliantly beautiful flowers. As the video begins, Cristall says she’s painting Mt. Timpanogos from American Fork and using memories of the snow-capped peaks surrounding Ouray, Colorado, to add some seasonal variety to the piece. It’s fun to see her process as she paints a less-common subject for her.
Next, I decide to check in with another friend, J. Kirk Richards. I bought a small JKR painting last year. He’s painting a church and field in the Utah County town of Woodland Hills, where he lives. “There’s a tractor up there that’s mowing down the field at a pretty good place,” Kirk says during the video. “So I’m going to just have to choose a frozen moment in time as far as that field goes.” This is just one of the many problems these plein air painters will face during the event.
To mix things up a bit, I decide to check out what one of my favorite sculptors, Ben Hammond, is working on. He’s at a studio in Pleasant Grove and what started as only wood and wire in the first video is already taking the form of an armless female figure by the second installment. By the third video she has arms, but it’s her ankles that capture Ben’s attention — and his trademark humor: “My grandpa always said that the most important feature of a woman is that she has nice ankles.”
It’s probably a good idea to see what one of our local painters is up to, so I click on Cedar City’s J. Brad Holt. Brad is painting at the Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park and begins by talking about the Jurassic-age Navajo sandstone in the cliffs. Apparently Brad has been writing a series of geology articles for OutdoorPainter.com. “It’s kind of a gray, overcast day, unfortunately,” he says in the video. “But in some ways that’s interesting because there’s a real subtle interplay of warms and cools.” The artist says plein air painters roll with the punches: “We adapt; we overcome; and we take advantage of the opportunities we’re dealt.”
I’ve followed Aaron Schuerr’s work since I purchased one of his paintings at the New Visions Art Show in 2014. He opens his first video by telling us he’s trying to make his way home to Montana but keeps “getting waylaid by beautiful things.” He’s in northern New Mexico and has come across an enormous storm cloud that is “just begging to be painted.”
Finally I make it to another Southern Utah artist, Julie Rogers, a Kanab painter best known for her depictions of pioneers. She introduces an adorable little girl who is modeling for her in front of some flowers. The second video features Julie giving some instructions to the young model. By the third video she has the basic colors in and is ready to start adding the details as she attempts to capture the little model’s personality.
Now as I check in Thursday morning, most of the artists do not seem to have posted any videos yet. So I click on Simon Winegar’s name to see what he did during Day One. He’s at the corner of State and Main streets in Farmington. He says the scene is not conventionally attractive but he likes its quirky character. Simon says it’s like “putting lipstick on a pig” and that he did, taking a rather uninteresting scene and making a nice little painting out of it.
Before re-immersing myself in the show this afternoon, I decide to call up Meyer to see how the show is going in her opinion. She tells me the technology has been a challenge for some. But for the most part, the artists seem to be having fun. She just appreciates their efforts to make it a successful show.
“The artists give up their time for three days,” she says. “To put yourself online and on video — that’s pretty scary.”
By Thursday afternoon there are many new videos to see. I start with one of the international artists, British painter Haidee-Jo Summers. She’s dressed in period garb at a fancy old home in Lincolnshire. She’s even wearing a bonnet as she captures a group of dancers, also in period clothing, having a picnic. “As you can see, it’s a race against time,” she says of the picnickers, who are hurrying to get back to their dancing.
After working a really long day for my three different jobs and even doing a little wedding planning in preparation of my big day on Aug. 1, I stop back by the website at 2:30 a.m. Friday. But I’m still counting it as Thursday.
I find Steven Lee Adams in the prettiest location yet — maybe even outdoing Holt’s Kolob scene. He is painting alongside the Provo River as it runs through a green meadow and it’s stunningly beautiful. Even better, it appears as if he has arranged for someone to use a drone to shoot aerial video of him painting. Now that’s a cool touch.
Although I met Rose Datoc Dall at the New Visions show in April, she lives in Virginia and for this event she is painting from Ashburn, Virginia. Rose is painting a woman in a vintage green dress sitting by a pond. She’s excited about the lighting and says the reflections on the water have been fun to paint.
Checking back in with Julie Rogers, she’s now in a pasture surrounded by horses. In the first video she says she plans to paint them if they cooperate but they look to be more interested in simply crowding around her. But they must cooperate eventually because she ends up with a pretty little painting of the horses in her signature pastel color scheme.
Stephen Datz probably explains the weather blessings and difficulties best. He’s painting from Fruita, Colorado, for the first day and it’s already raining. “You never know what you’re going to get with plein air painting and sometimes if you just give nature a chance, why she’ll surprise you.” For Day Two he has moved to a viewpoint above the Colorado River near Fruita. It’s still stormy but that means a dramatic sky. “That’s one thing about these stormy days: the skies are awesome,” he says.
Jeff Pugh, an artist whose blocky, palette knife I have come to love since I met him during the 2014 Arts to Zion Studio Tour, is painting from Midway for Day Three. He’s tackling a barn—one of his favorite subjects. “I’ve had some visitors: Some of the cows have wandered by,” he tells us.
Checking back in with Cristall, I get a good chuckle from her Day Three story. She visited four possible locations, but none of them worked out. Finally, she knocked on her neighbor’s door and asked if she could paint in his yard. He says yes, but by the second video, there’s a twist: Apparently the neighbor had second thoughts and came out to tell her he wasn’t comfortable with it. “I got kicked out!” she says. So she had to search for a sixth location. “People just don’t trust artists,” she says. “Because we’re weird.”
I watched even more artists and there were dozens of names I didn’t even click. While it’s definitely not the same as going to a physical art show, seeing the paintings in person and having conversations with the artists, “Where InThe World Is …” still provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these great artists. I’m already excited for next year.
New Visions Art Show 2014 (blog with photos)
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