A new show of plein air painting in California offers a compelling take on our relationship to land and what it means to spend time trying to understand the outdoors.
PASADENA, Calif. — For many of us who grew up studying studio art, plein air painting or drawing was a rite of passage. The general practice is simple: Go to an outside venue with a great view and try to capture its light, its colors, and its depth of perspective with your tools at hand. It can often be a moving experience to join other artists enjoying the same view and to see how everyone has slightly different experiences and interpretations.
Plein Air, on view at the Armory Center for the Arts, takes this idea as a point of departure, “to consider the ways in which humans use, observe, record, and commune with the land.” And in so doing, it offers a compelling take on our relationship with land and what it means to spend time trying to understand the outdoors.
Paula Wilson’s video work “Salty and Fresh” likewise depicts a mystical creation scene as human figures with faces painted on their buttocks emerge from the water, while picnickers take photos with their phones, clinking their glasses. The video was shot at Virginia Key Beach in Florida, a historic “colored only beach,” and Wilson towers as a sea goddess who paints onto the figures, holding an oversized palette.
“Each artist attends to the embodied experience of being there,” notes curator Aurora Tang’s exhibition text. And in so doing, these works collectively show that being there can mean many things — surveying the land, feeling its magic, or simply jumping into a hole to look closer at the ground.