Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Wayne Art Center's "Plein Air Festival."

Open-air paintings draw energy from the outdoors

"Boathouse Reflections," an oil painting by Donna Cusano. This year's "Plein Air Festival" features 32 representational painters from nine states.
"Boathouse Reflections," an oil painting by Donna Cusano. This year's "Plein Air Festival" features 32 representational painters from nine states.Read more

The seeds for Wayne Art Center's colorful open-air painting festival were planted during exploratory visits to similar events as far-flung as Easton, Md., and Sinoma on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Now the annual juried "Plein Air Festival" is in its fourth year, and this year features 32 representational painters from nine states, with artists from Maryland and Pennsylvania the strongest and most numerous participants. A third of the exhibitors are new to the festival.

The regional event calls attention to a growing movement among artists able to work rapidly and impressionistically, completing a canvas in less than three hours, two or three in a day. Several hundred of the resulting works are on view, with fewer watercolors this year. Oils predominate.

During the five days (May 17-25) in which the artists worked, many were houseguests of nearby families. They painted outdoors - rain, fortunately, was not much of a factor - at various locations, often starting with rural subjects within a 15-mile radius of their Wayne home base.

Scenic farms in the vicinity of Willistown Township, Paoli, and at Androssan were favored subjects. Oils of farm buildings by Tim Bell of Edgewater, Md., are standouts for their organic, vital style, which has a sweeping though deliberate movement and ease of handling.

The final days of painting concentrated on Philadelphia for the first time, as well as on Wayne itself, as in the past. Artists delivered their latest canvases each night with paint still wet, and the framed works immediately would be hung up.

Encountering such energy is one more indication that Wayne's hype about open-air painting extends to broader aesthetic territories, and to a wider public, than we'd once supposed. The art-savvy Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce will host a similar show for the first time next year. And in June, Philadelphia will host its first "Art in the Open," a juried, mixed-media extravaganza of creativity under the sky.

Natural light

In the spirit of the sketch, Barbara Schaff makes painted and drawn images of nature realized by light, not outline, in her show "Spontaneous Nature" at Sande Webster Gallery. Twenty years ago, Schaff, a Philadelphian, went from being a muralist in clay to a painter on canvas, a natural enough transition fueled both by her strong interest in color and light and by the influence of painter Seymour Remenick, a mentor.

A loose naturalness of expression that seemingly comes closest to the heart of her sensibility is shown in works ranging from luminous Asian-inspired landscapes to beautiful drawings of empty birds' nests. The latter, suggesting the emptiness left by her late father's passing, feature line that is crisp yet slightly blurred by the touch of her pencil, and that finds every contour, every twig. Thus, drawing gives credible volume to things, and from this credibility an almost atmospheric perspective, despite the absence of color or even wash.

More generally though, Schaff is best revealed in capturing objects, or scenes, and colorfully translating them into eloquent, somewhat abstract forms.

Main Line outreach

A local crisis-intervention center sends its children to after-school art classes at Main Line Art Center as a reward for good behavior. Indeed, impressive Art Center outreach programs abound for teens, children, adults with disabilities, at-risk children, poor adults, and poor families.

It's annual roundup time for artwork produced at these sessions, and participants in four of the programs are featured in the exhibit "The Space Within." Three of these programs are conducted at the Art Center in Haverford, the fourth in Chester.

Exceptional Art for Children and Teens deals with special needs associated with physical and cognitive disabilities. The individual attention these students receive brings good, lively results here, as do the projects connected with developmental difficulties of age groups ranging from children up through young adults, all from the Elwyn Education Division.

Presbyterian Village seems to handle crisis intervention in ways that motivate children to do well artistically, and Main Line's classes in Chester effectively use tactile mediums such as clay and mosaics in working with students at the Delaware County Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Good show.