It’s not the location; it’s what you bring to it.
|Fallow field, by Carol L. Douglas|
I’m at Plein Air Brandywine Valley (PABV) this week. Torrential rain was forecasted starting at midday, so I took the unusual step of leaving to paint before dawn. I intended to blog in the afternoon. Of course, I didn’t get back to my billet until 7 PM, which is why you’re reading this so late.
I had the opportunity to test a favorite hypothesis of mine: that location doesn’t matter as much as subject and style. I know painters who jealously guard their ‘special’ painting locations. I’ve always done the opposite. No two painters look at things the same way, and various paintings of the same site will all come out radically different.
|Same subject, by Lisa BurgerLentz. Note the raindrops; we were chased away around noon.|
PABV provides us with choices of venues at which to paint every day, but we’re required to do the bulk of our work at one of these assigned venues. That allows us to visit properties we’d otherwise not have access to. Equally important, it lets them bring us lunch every day.
Today, we were spoiled for choice, with five options. Only a few painters joined us at Kirkwood Preserve. It’s a lovely, rugged patch of fallow fields and old trees, but fearing an imminent washout, most of us stayed close to our cars. That meant that four of us chose to paint along the same sightline: Nancy Granda, Lisa BurgerLentz, Bobbi Heath, and me.
|Same subject, by Nancy Granda|
Nancy, Lisa and Bobbi all agreed to let me share their paintings to demonstrate my point. Four paintings could not be more similar in subject outside a sip-and-paint, and yet they are very different. Even thought they’re all roughly the same composition, they each have their own tonal range, level of abstraction, and brush or knife work.
I was once next to Alison Hill at an auction preview when a client stopped to look at our work. She was conflicted. “I love her style, but I prefer your subject matter,” she told me. I asked her which was more important to her. “Both,” she responded. I think she’s very typical of the knowledgeable art connoisseur, who responds both with the head and the heart.
|Same subject, by Bobbi Heath|
I’d painted rocks and surf, which are a passion of mine. But she didn’t know exactly where those rocks were, nor did she care. It was the interplay of water and stone that attracted her. I know how to get to Raven’s Nest in Schoodic, a spot that is intentionally somewhat concealed. It isn’t promoted by the National Park Service because it’s dangerous. But I’m happy to tell you, unless I think there’s a chance you’ll slip and kill yourself. Raven’s Nest is stunning, but a painting of it isn’t going to be any better than any other well-composed painting of rocks and surf.
With the exception of Paris, no other site is more closely associated with the birth of impressionism than Argenteuil, wrote art historian Paul Hayes Tucker in Impressionists at Argenteuil. Claude Monet (who lived there for a time) was joined by other avant-garde painters, including Eugene Boudin, Gustave Caillebotte, Edouard Manet, Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. These painters were working in roughly the same style, painting the same subjects, and overlapping in the same time period. Yet nobody finds their work redundant today.