25 March 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 26 March 2010

America's wobble is troubling.

Just a little disgusted with politics, political correctness, and corruption these days--especially with pre and post healthcare reform vote hijinx--and not in the mood to hurl, as one reader put it a few weeks ago, "social napalm" this week.

That said, considering adamant campaign pledges Candidate Obama made promising transparency of government and openness, with emphasis on the healthcare reform process, should there be proven incidents of strong-arming congressman (and their families) through threats by him, President Obama, or anyone in his administration (elected or appointed)--regardless of how cleverly veiled, may the president be impeached, criminally charged, and brought to justice. Whether all politicians make false promises is irrelevant. That he is seemingly not a man of his word is one matter, and a serious one for concern. But to be party to thuggery, of any type and on any level, another matter and far more serious one still. The FBI is investigating.

For he, Mr. Obama, alone is responsible for all his administration does and fails to do with shirking of such ultimate responsibility--regardless of who holds our high office--at the least unconscionable and despicable. Remember, never, ever be surprised by what anyone--our president notwithstanding--does but surely be disappointed. And that goes for recent outrageous uncivil public behavior, too.

Of course it's unlikely anything will be substantiated as to high office wrongdoing; breaching ethics or law. But should there, wouldn't it be nice to see affirmed that no one in America is above that upon which our country was founded and built? Yet, in principle and reality, oh so sad; though we've 'been there done that.'

Now, lighter Commentary for today...

I suppose now is as good a time as any to answer a query that has come to me with some frequency since starting this Commentary--to explain what it means to paint "en plein air." And, 'just because' I'll toss in a funny true "en plein air" painting story.

Simple. "En plein air" means the artist paints in the open air. That is, on location--from life--dealing with all nature has to throw at the painter to make the experience a joy and challenge. The ever-moving sun hence shadows, heat, cold, wind, rain, insects and animals, curious passersby, interested but sometimes meddlesome children, and more is what painting "en plein air" is all about.

The French Impressionists founded this fresh way of capturing fleeting light and life. Other countries, including America, soon followed suit with their own slant.

As written by Carl Little in "The Watercolors of John Singer Sargent" (an American painter (1856-1925) known for his stunning portraits and fresh, bravado landscapes in oil and watercolor), writer Edmund Gosse (1849-1928) after observing Sargent opined about the painter's way when roaming the countryside and randomly selecting subject matter, he "was to acquire the habit of reproducing precisely whatever met his vision without the slightest previous 'arrangement' of detail, the painter's business being, not to pick and choose, but to render the effect before him, whatever it may be."

Mr. Sargent was an exceptional plein air painter.

"En plein air" is the way I choose to paint--everything. For me, it is the only way possible to see true color and shape, relationships thereof, and, because of time, be forced to capture the essence of the subject with rapid, strong, and confident brushwork; something that is nearly impossible to do in the confines of a comfortable studio. In short, plein air painting air is an emergency of sorts.

Plein air painting, lacking the degree of "finish" the average, ill-informed person believes to be high art, does not rely on photographic reference material. Plein air painters do not work from photographs for photos are not reality. Photos are nothing more than a mere static moment captured with a device that shrinks reality into a gross distortion of shape and color. Simply stated, a photograph of a rushing brook is not a rushing brook.

Plein air painters could care less about matching wall or sofa color or any kind of decorating scheme.

Plein air painters do not aspire to hear naive comments like, "Gosh, the detail, it looks like a photograph." Why bother to paint? Take a photograph--the camera can do it better--and be done with it. Plein painters better appreciate the skill of insinuating detail and painting a design that leaves the viewer in marvel and "finishing" the painting their own way. The old adage "less is more" applies.

It's not complicated. But I could go on and on about the virtues of painting en plein air. Not to worry. I will spare you. From city streets to secluded desert oases, I have many stories. One in particular came to mind while crafting this Commentary.

Nine years ago this month, my wife and I were on a ten-day painting junket in southern Spain. The trip started in Marbella with side day trips to Tangiers, Morocco (another great story for another day), Mijas, and Ronda (a city near and dear to Orson Wells) and ended in Seville. Beautiful weather and strong coastal light made for ideal plein air painting conditions. The sky was a cobalt blue I've never seen before--even Mojave desert skies in the middle of the summer fall a bit short of what I saw in southern Spain. Unbelievable!

Painting on the beaches and streets was quite the time. A typical day was a painting in the morning followed by a seafood lunch and cold beer or two somewhere along the beach and then a late afternoon painting to wrap up the day. That was the routine. Except for the occasional night painting of which I likewise have stories.

One afternoon in Seville I was sitting beside the massive stone and wrought iron fence wall encircling the Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede (Cathedral of Saint Mary)--the largest Gothic and third largest church in the world. It was completed at the end of the 16th century. They don't build them like that anymore. Of note, the cathedral is the burial site of Christopher Columbus. The Giralda, part of the massive cathedral and a structure I painted, is the minaret converted into bell tower and the city's most famous symbol--the base is old mosque and the bell tower and spire top is Renaissance.

Anyway, perched on a small stool and dressed in jeans, a long sleeve white shirt, and wide brimmed hat (to keep the sun off) I was hunched over my easel painting a gouache (opaque watercolor) of some bright white elevated stone statuary of a religious figure on a ten to twelve foot pedestal across the street.

The streets were busy and heavy foot traffic on the sidewalks. About half-way through my painting, a young couple in their late 20s and clearly Americans approached me and started speaking in their best attempt at Spanish. First, the guy says to me, "Entrada?" I do not say a word while placing my brush in the water jar. I look at him puzzled and he continues with simple Spanish words trying his best to ask where the entrance is to the cathedral grounds.

After a minute or two, and I have yet to open my mouth, his wife says, "Let me try" and says to me, "Donde esta (to her husband, "damn, what's the word for door or gate?") and finally comes out with "puerta" and "portilla."

I continue to look puzzled and maybe a bit annoyed that they are interrupting my painting time but have refrained from opening my mouth as I am rather enjoying the moment.

The couple stands there flipping through their English to Spanish dictionary and finally squat to show me their map and are pointing to the entrance gate they have not had any success locating. Funny, they are under the impression I am a Spaniard and can help them.

Okay enough fun. I am having a difficult time restraining laughter. I look at the two and say to the guy, "I'm an American. My Spanish is poor--more than 20 years since college and I've not used it. So, hey pal, why don't we use English." His wife burst out laughing. He did, too, but not quite so quickly--perhaps annoyed that I strung them along for a few minutes.

As it turned out they were from a small town in Kentucky with which I was familiar. So, we made small talk for a few minutes and they confessed to assuming I was Spanish by the way I was dressed, what I was painting, and the way I acted. When traveling abroad, I try my best to blend in. I guess it worked.

I was not able to help them locate the entrance. Surely they found their way with a walk of the perimeter. In addition to their sightseeing in Seville, they left with a funny story. So did I.

I thought it was funny as hell. It was even funnier when sharing with friends during lunch over a huge spread of paella and after a few cold beers.

The paintings I did of the Giralda and the statuary were bought by a collector in southern California. At this posting I was not able to locate my images of those striking paintings but to the left are posted a few others from the trip--which have only been exhibited once. Some are still available.

One day we plan to return to southern Spain--a land of beautiful countryside and warm, hospitable people--to paint and relax. Maybe I'll again be mistaken for a Spaniard--preferable to a Frenchman any day.

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