“Plein air is a French term that was established by the French impressionist painters back in the early 1900s, which meant the artist would go out on location and paint on location and try to get at least a study or an established painting while they were on site,” says artist Alexis McCarthy, president of Plein Air Austin.
“There they were relying on the environment," she says. "They were relying on the light and the mood and the impression that was established, [which] created a genre that has been carried forth to modern day.”
McCarthy says there's been a resurgence of the plein-air esthetic in the U.S. over the past 10 years, and her group has been working to keep the tradition alive in the Austin area for the better part of two decades. On a fairly regular basis, she and the other artist members of Plein Air Austin meet up to do some painting in the out-of-doors.
On May 4, they’ll host their first event at the Elizabet Ney Museum, which is a natural fit for Plein Air painting.
“As your listeners might know, we at the Elizabet Ney Museum have recreated native landscape out in front … on the 44th Street side of the building,” says Oliver Franklin, the museum’s site coordinator. “And of course this time of year is when it really comes to life with lots of color and beauty and flowers.”
Franklin says the painting event is just the sort of thing that would have delighted Ney herself.
“She was very much a believer in natural landscape,” he says. “And people would come from all over town to visit Ms. Ney. So that’s part of it, too, is this sort of salon culture that she created there. They would always come and hang out with Ms. Ney – because she was such a fascinating person – and learn about philosophy and art and science and everything.”
Baron Wilson, another member of Plein Air Austin, makes it clear nonmembers are also welcome to come and do some painting. “Part of our logo is to ‘Come paint with us,’” he says. “It’s not exclusive to members of Plein Air Austin. The more participation, the better.”
“We’re just going to have everybody kind of hanging out,” McCarthy says. “Then later in the afternoon we’ll have a little bit of a critique, and then we’re going to have a potential artist demo … and then we’ll have a closing afternoon social that kind of showcases the artwork.”
“Everyone learns by example, so it’s a great way to see how easy it is,” Wilson says. “It can be intimidating because if you’re used to working in the studio, being out doors is a whole other ballgame in terms of your approach and what your expectations are.”