Galleries : Marjorie Mason: Plein Talk
Thanks to Chilmark artist Marjorie Mason, a celebration of en plein air art -- the French term for painting outdoors in the moment at the site -- has entered its third year of group exhibits at PIKNIK and Dragonfly galleries in Oak Bluffs. The show will continue through Columbus Day.
"Plein-air painting has to be done in one sitting," Ms. Mason says. "It's a dance. You have to do it before the light changes. You're watching the light do its magic on form, and you can't come back. You're working wet on wet. The time constraint involved forces you to problem-solve."
The same issues come up for every artist in plein-air painting. The artist has to work within the moment, solve the problems of form and control the paint, all of which take strategy. The artist's hand moving the paintbrush sets the energy in the painting. The viewer can feel the inspiration.
Ms. Mason organized the first Island-wide call for a group plein-air show in 2006. The idea started to take form when Maryland artist John Ebersberger, who shows with her at the Edgartown Art Gallery, and four of his friends showed up on-Island and invited her to paint outdoors with them.
"They were going out at dawn and dusk," she says. "I thought I had all this time. The impressionists said you get two hours. You don't get two hours at dawn. You get about 15 minutes."
She had been concentrating on monotypes -- one-of-a-kind, painterly prints, and began working outdoors with Thaw Malin, a long-time Vineyard plein-air artist who has since moved to Texas but returns to paint on the Island. She had heard of only one plein-air group show on the Island, at Featherstone Gallery.
"There's no more inhibition. Who doesn't love getting rid of inhibitions?" Ms. Mason says of the painting plein air method. "Thaw and I were so jazzed by this, we wanted to start something here."
Photo by Ralph Stewart
She approached Holly Alaimo, the owner of Dragonfly Gallery in the Oak Bluffs Arts District, and soon two other Arts District gallery owners, Michael Hunter of PIKNIK and Judi Schubert of Periwinkle, joined in. Ms. Mason put out a call to Island artists to complete five paintings outdoors in five days. (Ms. Schubert dropped out this year because she uses her gallery as her studio.)
"We didn't know it would go anywhere, but we should have," Ms. Mason says. The response was immediate and huge. It came from three groups of artists working on the Island -- professionals who show regularly, emerging artists who may be equally as experienced but don't show as actively, and visiting professionals who come to the Island to paint.
For the first two years, Ms. Mason issued an open call through ads in local newspapers, and any artist could register to be in the show. The requirements were to paint in assigned locations and work at least once in a group.
"We're trying to show the world how each artist handles the same subject and works in the same light, because the light is the story," Ms. Mason explains. The goal of the exhibit is to showcase each artist's talents.
This year the Plein Air Show started with an invitational preview featuring 13 artists known for their plein-air work. The invitational, with no specific requirements other than being done plein air on the Island, came about to encourage Island professional painters with very busy schedules and a short summer season to carve time out in September.
Opening September 13, it was staged as a preview for the main event, which opens Saturday, September 20.
The open call, with location and group requirements, was again advertised in August, and the main group has grown to more than 25 artists. Painters from the invitational group are free to participate in the main show as well.
The Plein Air Show is mounted in September because, according to Ms. Mason, September has the best light of the year. The longest day may come in June, but September's light is very bright. Itwarms up colors the same way light warms up colors at the end of the day. By September the Island's vegetation has fully matured and more reds come out. With so much greenery still around, the two color temperatures "zing together and vibrate," according to Ms. Mason, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate.
She believes the plein air show has generated a lot of inspiration among artists, and in turn they inspire each other when working side by side in the field.
"I have so much respect for the group that has stepped up to the plate to be in the show," Ms. Mason says. "I see all these people getting very excited, very absorbed." Many Island artists continue to work in the studio, a tradition that is equally valid. The plein-air movement does not intend to replace classical studio art but to be appreciated alongside it. The Island's art community has been attracted by the plein-art group show because of the enthusiasm it's generated.
"We're just at the very beginning of this," Ms. Mason says. "It has its own life."
Opening Reception for the Plein Air Open Call show, featuring 30 Vineyard artists, 4-7 pm, Saturday, Sept. 20, Dragonfly Gallery & PIKNIK Art & Apparel, Arts District, Oak Bluffs. 508-693-8877; 508-693-1366.