Plein air paintings highlight Beloit beauty -
Buzz word: “Plein Air”
“It’s hard to choose the best one!”
I can’t help but agree with the above comment – the variety of the paintings that dotted the art gallery public showing made me smile.
The buzz in the gallery rose and dipped as people spoke to each other. They walked around the fifty-plus paintings, lapsing into momentary silence as they gazed at different paintings and then moving on to comment on a particular piece that especially caught their eye.
The excited comment came from one woman who arrived to see paintings for herself at the ninth annual “Edge of the Rock: Plein Air” exhibit in the Beloit College Hendricks Center for the Arts.
Everyone, including presenters from host Friends of RiverFront, judges, artists, and regular passersby, admired the culmination of artwork resulting from an eight-day event in which registered painters were challenged to paint “in the open air” rather than from the inner sanctum of a studio or from a well-studied photograph.
As I wandered around the gallery, trying not to bump into others, I delighted in recognizing a number of Beloit-iconic representations on canvas – some painters channeled Impressionism while others revealed what they saw with bold strokes of the brush or soft dabbles of blue, for example.
Rules to live by
Starting on June 3 through the 11th, painters hailed from local Midwestern towns and cities, as well as some prominent Beloit-grown painters to participate and compete for cash prizes (provided by several Beloit sponsors) for their creations.
Each painter could paint onto as many canvases (or other materials, such as panels) as they wished, but they only turned in an allowed two paintings to be looked at by a panel of three judges in the end.
Another limit provided to the painters included the boundaries of finding inspiration between Grand Avenue and the Henry Avenue bridges, as well as being encouraged to paint from the lusciously green Beloit College campus.
In their own words
Generally speaking, I don’t fancy myself to be a painter, so the idea of painting such beautiful pieces outdoors, as the sun is going down, amazed me. I marveled at the ingenuity of the artists’ work and choice of what they painted.
Due to my incredulity at seeing people craft such masterpieces in such a short amount of time, I sought out a couple of artists to ask about their own experience in the event.
“It’s a challenge to do it when you are out there,” confirmed Connie Fry of South Beloit, who painted for the event for three years. She explained her time constraints were especially tight due to her medium of using acrylic paint (which dries quite quickly).
One of her two submitted paintings included a family of geese by the post office. I laughed when Fry told me how it seemed not to matter to the geese when she politely asked them to stay still for a few moments more as her brush raced across her canvas; alas, the black-necked fowl failed to listen. However, looking at her painting, I could not tell, because she captured them so wonderfully.
Another artist I spoke to, Carolyn Larkin who is from Pewaukee, figures this year was her third or fourth time painting for the event.
“The people that run it are very nice,” Larkin told me. She added that she likes how plein air painting requires one to use all of their senses, and she also liked speaking with people as she painted and also seeing what other artists came up with.
One’s overall impression
Beloit resident Carol Schwaegler (and a friend of my grandmother’s: full disclosure) beamed as she talked about the event.
“I’ve seen the artists around town with their easels,” began Schwaegler, “[And] of course the scenes are familiar. It’s really fun to see what they’ve done. There are a lot of [paintings] that are my favorites! If I was going to buy one it’d be really tough!”
I couldn’t agree with truer words. As, I’m sure; many others who looked over the talented paintings for sale must’ve felt about deciding upon which piece(s) to bring home.
Knowledgeable Insight from Judges
Shortly after opening the gallery to the public, the Executive Director of Friends of RiverFront, Jennifer Kodl, began to announce multiple winners from both the professional and next generation (teenaged painters) divisions.
With each painting held up, a winner would be introduced, and then the two judges (the third judge was not present) commented on what they thought of the notable artwork.
I found this part of the evening to be quite intriguing. I, and others probably, appreciated to hear the gracious words of the judges as they gave their opinions as to why each piece worked for them.
And, prior to the exhibition, all of the paintings judged remained nameless – so judges Georgene Pomplun, John Ribble, and Diane Washa (not present) could determine the merits for all of the paintings without any potential bias.
For example, Chicago artist Alison Rae Nichols won “Best in Show” for her “Transformations” painting, which “embodied the spirit of Beloit” according to judge Pomplun.
Another painter, Kyle Martin, won the “Pride of Beloit” prize. Judge Ribble commented that Martin’s work is “very interesting [due to] the interplay of shape, form, and color… Kyle is a very competent painter.”
Throughout the rest of the exhibition, as some painters earned honorable mentions or prizes, for example, I felt that judge Pomplun summarized the event succinctly.
While commenting on an honorable mention win by painter R. L. Weber of Belvidere, she said, “You want to invite that viewer in… That is what Plein Air is all about!”