Beginning Sunday, the San Luis Obispo Art Center will host a week-long series of events revolving around the concept of plein air art and celebrating the Central Coast’s landscape.
The tradition of painting “en plein air” goes back to the days of Renoir and Monet, who both advocated the style of working outside and using the natural landscape as a color palette. Eight years ago, the technique began to regain popularity, and the Art Center picked up on it.
This year, the center has invited fifty award-winning and nationally recognized artists from all over the nation to capture our beautiful Central Coast landscape ‘en plein air.’ The events include a day on which the public is encouraged to observe these artists at work in their element: outdoors.
“People can get real close, almost right up to their elbows and see how they move the paint around on the canvas,” Art Center executive director Karen Kile said. “These artists have sought out this lifestyle, and they shine in it.”
While some artists choose to tune out the crowd with an iPod, some really enjoy discussing their works in progress. Bryan Mark Taylor is returning to the festival for the fifth time.
“It gets me really energized,” he said. “It’s kind of an exciting experience to have people participating, to get that dialogue going.”
Kile also said that it is more about finding the right light to paint in than the actual scene. Some commonly visited areas are Montaña de Oro, downtown architecture, beaches and vineyards.
Pamela Panattoni, another returning artist, gushed about the benefits of this particular Plein Air Festival.
“I love coming to the festival in San Luis Obispo,” she said. “It’s beautiful everywhere you go, and so unique — like the downtown architecture.”
The Art Center will provide maps of popular local places where the artists can be found and observed. On Saturday, Oct. 3, the artists will all assemble in the Mission Plaza to race to finish an original plein air painting in two hours. The paintings will then be sold right off the easel in a live auction.
This year, other forms of art will also be represented at the festival, including a plein air concert performed on the Art Center lawn with Café Musique, and a free plein air poetry reading.
Plein air poems, like plein air paintings, are created outdoors, inspired both by the scenic landscape and the paintings that depict it. This week, nine poets will each pair with one artist to draw inspiration and create an original poem to be read in the San Luis Obispo Art Center, with the poets surrounded by the images that inspired them.
While this festival is primarily a fundraiser for the Art Center, it also serves to help local artists by building up interest in plein air painting. Local artists can even learn from the 50 artists involved in the festival by observing and picking up on tricks of the trade.
Kile explained that when they decided to do the first festival, they were “looking for a meaningful, community-wide fundraiser with longevity that would mean a lot for the area.”
Although most of the events are not free, several are, including the poetry reading on Thursday evening and Art After Dark on Friday evening. “We want Poly students and faculty to feel like they can come to anything,” she said. “One freebie to watch is the Quick Draw Paint Out on Saturday morning. It’s fun to stick around and (to see what) the paintings sell for, too.”