|Tools of My Trade by Jean LeGassick
"Plein-air painting has to do with putting your soul on show," says founder Denise Burns. Ask her why she organized the Plein-Air Painters of America, and she characteristically adds a tidbit of humor: "We were eating bugs, too," she says, pointing out that in the mid-1980s New Mexico's on-location painters were getting attention in the press, but those in California were only beginning to see their names in print.
Color & Light. It was an era when early California impressionism was just beginning to be documented by scholars. In 1982 Ruth Westphal published the resource book Plein-Air Painters of California The Southland, followed four years later by its compansion piece, The Northland. Major collections were being built, and prices for historic paintings were rising. Burns, who was president of the Catalina Art Association at the time, felt the moment had arrived to educate collectors about contemporary artists pursuing the art of painting from life.
With the encouragement of her friend, art collector Roy Rose (grand nephew of California impressionist Guy Rose), Burns handpicked 20 artists to participate in first Plein-Air Painters Festival, October 30-November 2, 1986. The concept was to come to Catalina Island, as did so many early California impressionists, paint outdoors for a week, then sell the paintings in a Saturday evening exhibition. PAPA's annual "wet paint" sales would become the impetus for similar events that have blossomed across the nation, as well as the formation of groups in nearly every state of the union. (Left: Kevin Macpherson painting on Catalina Island.)
Coast to Coast. That format continued with minor variations through 2003, when the last PAPA-sanctioned exhibition and sale took place on Catalina Island. Today, PAPA exhibitions and sales are held from coast to coast. Recent exhibitions include both plein air and studio paintings, often on themes. They have been held in venues such as The Haggin Museum, Stockton, California; Bennington Art Center, VT, the Academy Art Museum, Easton, Maryland, Desert Caballeros Museum, Wickenburg, Arizona; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, CO; and the Art Association of Jackson, Wyoming.
For each of these exhibitions, Signature Members and selected Guest Artists seek out timeless beauty, which they record in brilliant field studies done in oils, pastels, or watercolors. The paintings document a place in time, whether an expansive panorama or intimate nook. For collectors, these paintings are permanent reminders of nature's oft-overlooked complexity and unity.
One such exhibition is American Legacy: Our National Parks, which is traveling through 2013. PAPA members and guests documented 35 National Park Service sites across the United States. A color catalog documenting more than 100 artworks accompanies the exhibition. For information about the traveling schedule, please go the Press Room.
Workshops. Educating collectors about on-location painting is only one of the ways in which PAPA members share their expertise. In 1997, PAPA held its first annual workshop. Co-sponsored by the Scottsdale Artists’ School, these intensive outdoor painting opportunities last from three to five days and draw participants from across the country. By painting with a variety of PAPA Signature Members, participants are exposed to both fundamentals, as well as diverse approaches. As one enthusiastic participant noted, "I consider the PAPA workshop my masters in painting!" (Left: John Budicin works with a participant at a PAPA workshop in Laguna Beach, CA)
Pursuit of Quality. Because it is quality not quantity that motivates the Plein-Air Painters of America, Signature Membership remains small. Over the past two decades, however, many of the finest painters have been invited to show as Guest Artists in PAPA exhibitions. The quality of art produced by both Signature Members and Guest Artists on Catalina Island was documented in the book, Enchanted Isle—A History of Plein Air Painting in Santa Catalina Island (2003, Society for the Advancement of Plein Air Painting, Avalon, CA). Subsequent guest artists have been documented in exhibition catalogs, including The Haggin Museum catalogs From the Heart and American Legacy: Our National Parks, On Location with the Plein Air Painters of America.
From very humble beginnings on Catalina Island, PAPA has parlayed success upon success, producing shows and workshops of such high caliber that the group is regularly identified as the icon of the genre. PAPA is, as Southwest Art magazine described it, "the granddaddy of them all," spawning the contemporary plein-air phenomenon presently sweeping this nation.
Policy on Membership. Signature Membership in the Plein-Air Painters of America recognizes superiority in the technique of painting on location and honors the individual artist's professional standing in the arts community. Applications for joining PAPA as a Signature Member or as a Guest Artist in PAPA exhibitions are made by invitation. Unsolicited submissions for Signature Membership or Guest Artist status are not being considered at this time.