The style of painting known as Plein Air very loosely translates as “breathing lots of fresh air while painting beautiful vistas in nature.” (Ahem. Very loosely translates….)
Seven members of the Mt. Washington Plein Air Painters, who have been painting and breathing fresh air in each other’s company for a decade around the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River, are taking a thematic and geographic detour this Saturday, December 4th. Not only is the group’s pop-up gallery located further north, off the Arroyo Parkway in South Pasadena, they’ll be painting the historic 110 freeway for their newest show TRAFFIC.
Plein air painter Kevin Spitze acknowledges that at first glance, the theme of the show might seem at odds with the public perception of the plein air philosophy but says that man-made structures are an important element of the urban landscape. “Seeking the idyllic purity of nature ignores a major part of our existence. Freeways are another version of the urban landscape.”
Spitze’s fellow artist Richard Willson, co-founder of the Mt. Washington Plein Air Painters, agrees that at first glance, freeways are a “bold choice, especially in South Pasadena, which is the most anti-freeway city in Southern California.” Even avid, anti-freeway activists are likely, however, to agree with Willson that, with its overarching bridges and sycamore-lined, ravine location, “the 110, as freeways go, is beautiful.”
The five other participating artists — Diane Behrens, John Byram, Ann Dudrow, Roderick Smith, and Donna Wolff — also agreed that “as a theme, ‘traffic’ would resonate with Southern Californians and would lend itself to exciting and dramatic interpretations,” according to Spitze. As a result, the group decided that all of the paintings in TRAFFIC would be 1000 square inches, another departure from their usual work, which is generally 24 by 48 inches. “It was another challenge,” admits Willson.
In a final break with their own tradition, most of the artists are working from photographs in their studios — or in Willson’s case, in the gallery — rather than outside. The decision is partly because of time constraints; the group only has use of the gallery space, courtesy of Willson’s long-time friend Ellen Daigle, until the end of December.
Additionally, the participants only agreed on the theme a month ago, according to Willson, and many people lost another week because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Working around day jobs and fading fall light, the artists didn’t have the luxury of only painting one day a week outside. Spitze also cites practicality as an issue, pointing out that “Finding a good vantage point over a freeway is hard.”
Willson, who holds a Ph.D. in Urban Planning, contends that “freeways are a bigger part of people’s visual environment in Los Angeles than they’re willing to admit. This is our life, for better or worse.” Adds Spitze, “Artists have always painted rivers. The freeway is our concrete river.”
Ready? U Know U Want 2 Go Go….
12/6/2010 UPDATE: Because of last-minute drop-outs and additions, the correct line-up of artists participating in the TRAFFIC exhibit are as follows: Diane Behrens, Jose L. De Juan, Ann Dudrow, Wayne Hunt, Roderick Smith, Kevin Spitze, Richard Willson, and Donna Wolff.