Mary Ann Warner, a Taos artist and winner of last year's "Wild Rivers Plein Air Paint-Out," describes painting en plein air ("open air" in French) as a Zen experience. "I have learned to show up and trust I can get out of the way and make spontaneous choices. I try not to listen to all the 'rules' I have learned. Of all the mediums I have experienced, painting plein air is the most physically demanding and the most rewarding."
The second annual paint-out, set for today through Saturday (June 22-24), is sponsored by the OCHO Gallery in Questa. It will require the artists to plan their days carefully because of the time constraints imposed to get the paintings done and the remote locations in which they will paint.
Supplies like water, sunscreen and the basics to do the work can't be left behind. There is no time to retrieve anything once the event is underway. Each artist must get his or her canvas stamped by an organizer at Sheep's Crossing in the Wild Rivers part of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. This measure prevents artists from "cheating" by entering a piece started or finished prior. Artists are allowed to paint at Wild Rivers and the historic village of Questa.
Peggy Trigg, the event organizer and a local artist, is a regular participant at plein air events all over the country. She said it was a no-brainer pooling local resources to create an event in Taos that she hopes to grow annually. "These festivals are more popular than ever because baby boomers have retired and now have the time to pursue creative adventures," Trigg said.
This year, the number of artists participating has doubled from last year, and there are more sponsors from the business community and local art supply stores. Also, local hotels are offering special rates for artists participating in the event. There will be art demonstrations, workshops before the festival, a barbecue potluck and prizes for the best in the show.
Taos artist Richard Alan Nichols, an experienced juror of gallery and plein air shows, is one of the judges for this year's event.
He said, "Judging an exhibition like this is challenging. ... Between the bugs and wildlife, time constraints, weather and other things that can go wrong painting outdoors, everyone who finishes is a winner in my book."
He said he will use the same standard criteria used to judge any art show: that of movement, shape, form and "something that speaks to me from the heart." He said he also likes to know the backstory with each piece, whether it is obvious in the painting itself or verbally explained by the artist. Nichols said he hopes the event will develop some traction.
"The carbon footprint is small, local restaurants and hotels benefit and what artist doesn't want to paint in the brilliant Northern New Mexico light?" He said he is surprised that in an art colony like Taos, an event like this has no history here. "Artists from all over the world come here to paint in all the possibilities of light offered by the season and location. Why not host an annual event for artists to meet and bond under the most extreme conditions to paint in?"
The schedule for the event is rigorous, starting today with canvas stamping at Sheep's Crossing and Friday (June 23) at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Questa.
There will be demonstrations by Nichols painting in oil June 22 at Sheep's Crossing from 8-10 a.m. From 9-11 a.m., there will be a demonstration of painting in pastel by Margi Lucena at La Junta Point. The last event of the day is a meet-and-greet potluck at El Aguaje Campground between 5-7 p.m., which will be hosted by Tobi Clements.
The artists will then scatter to their chosen locations and commence painting "fast and loose," usually three or four canvases a day. The event culminates in a show from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday (June 24) at OCHO with selected work offered for sale at the unheard-of commission split of 95 percent to the artist and a 5 percent processing fee. The prices will vary, depending on the artist and size of the canvas.
For more information, visit wildriverspleinair.com.