15th Annual Plein Air Invitational


Last updated 3/29/2021 at 3:47pm

Dan Delouise from Rockport, Massachusetts is an active member of the art colony in Rockport, winning many awards for his paintings and designs.

The 15th Annual Plein Air Invitational Artists Reception and Awards were held Saturday afternoon, March 6th, at the Borrego Art Institute. This show featured an accomplished, award-winning group of extremely talented artists.

Awards were presented to the artists surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of art lovers. The show was curated by Kay Levie, Director of the Borrego Art Institute, and sponsored by Jim & Anne Wermers, Anson Construction, Richen Design and King of Frames. Tim Horn, an award-winning artist from Fairfax, California, served as juror for the show.

Thirteen award-winning artists were invited by the art institute to spend a week engaged in plein air painting ("the act of painting outdoors") in and around Borrego Springs. Artists could be seen all over town, setting up their easels and painting. Borrego offers artists an inspiring, vigorous desert landscape, drenched in ever-changing light essential for plein air painting. Artists also took their inspiration from local attractions such as vintage cars, the Desert Sands Vintage RV Park, interesting found objects and, of course, Borrego's abundant flora and fauna.

Plein air style painting appeared in the mid-1800s when French landscape painting underwent a remarkable transformation. Artists abandoned their traditional, conservative studio painting to sketch and paint directly from nature, en plein air. The new plein air style favored informal compositions with loose brush strokes of unmodulated color. The emphasis was on spontaneity and the capturing of outdoor light often referred to as 'surrendering to light.'

By 1877, French Impressionists expanded the plein air painting approach to include urban scenes. Impressionism marked a break with the previous history of European painting and its cornerstone plein air approach liberated artists. This historic legacy inspired the 15th Annual Invitation at the Borrego Art Institute.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts of Portland, Oregon headed up an accomplished group of artists to win first place for his painting, "Smoke Trees & Desert Sage" (Oil, 12 X 17). Thomas also won The Quick Draw Award with his delicate, subtle work, "The Good Rain" (Oil, 9 X 12).

Describing his art journey, Thomas notes, "I want my audience to appreciate why I prefer to paint from life and thus discover our common sense of wonder."

Thomas' paintings clearly show the artist's authentic connection to nature. His rhythmic brush strokes give the viewer an immediate connection to the outdoor energy of the painting.

His works have been exhibited in several distinguished museum collections, including, The Portland Art Museum, The Laguna Art Museum, Maritime Museum of Curacao. His artist awards include Artist to Watch by The Informed Collector and Plein Air Magazine salon finalist.

Ryan Jensen – the child of professional artists from the San Francisco Bay Area – took home The People's Choice Award with his "Avery's Moon" oil painting. The piece is an extremely striking work measuring 5 by 9 feet. Light illusions surface from vibrant, energized fields of colorful daubs, casually placed with spontaneous brush work. The work is translucent, capturing the often- magical evening light in Borrego. He also took home second place for his "51's Got a Drip" (Oil, 40 X 60).

What struck me immediately about Ryan's technique was the way he puts his entire mind and body into his painting. He said that he likes to get "engaged physically in the painting process." This is obvious at a glance. His brush strokes are bold, striding across the canvas in mounting layers which, when viewed from a distance, are full of changeable light tones that emerge from the underpainting. Ryan is an extremely exciting artist. You are going to want to spend some time viewing his remarkable works.

Margaret Larlham, meanwhile, is a returning favorite artist to the Plein Air Invitational. Margaret's "Among the Rocks" (Pastel, 14 x 11) took third place this year. The work has a restrained, almost sculptural, sense of composition and a beautiful, blended use of pastel color. In past years, she took home first and third place awards, plus an honorable mention.

Margaret was born in Durban, South Africa, and moved to San Diego in 1986. She studied at San Diego State University, has an MFA in Theatre and recently retired from the SDSU School of Theatre, Television and Film. The artist is renowned for her command of the often-challenging medium of pastels. She is a member of the Pastel Society of America, and a master member of the International Assn. of Pastel Societies. Recent awards include First Prize at the Pastel Society of Eastern Canada.

Kadin Goldberg was awarded Honorable Mention for his submission "Roadside Attraction" (Oil, 9 X 14). The painting showcases a stylized traditional influence, reflecting his studies in traditional technique at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy. Gazing upon Roadside Attraction's subdued palette and dramatic use of light, it is easy to see how it might have been inspired by Kadin's studies in Florence.

At the 2019 Borrego Invitational, Kadin won third place, and in 2020 he won Honorable Mention. The artist paints almost exclusively outdoors. He notes in his artist statement: "My goal is to bring attention to the beauty of our natural world, capture the feeling of a place and ultimately protect the place through awareness."

Jim Wodark is another favorite artist returning to the Invitational. His painting "After the Rain" (Oil, 12 X 16) was recognized with an Honorable Mention. The artist won 1st place in 2016 and in 2020 took second place plus the Artists' Choice Award.

In the tradition of plein air painters, Jim paints a glowing back light, accented by touches of bright color and a dramatic choice of scenery.

In his artist statement, Jim notes: "When you grow up in Colorado, it is hard not to love the outdoors. For me, being outside and capturing the light, mood and atmosphere on a canvas for other people to enjoy is just an incredible feeling."

Additional recent awards for Jim Wodark include Grand Prize Winner – Plein Air Salon's Yearlong Painting Competition, Best in Show – Laguna Plein Air Painters, and Sonoma Plein Air American Impressionist National Show Award of Excellence.

Toni Williams painting, "Living Color" (Oil, 9 X 12), was awarded Honorable Mention and is one of my favorite overall works in the show. Sometimes a painting hits every artistic note, and this is the case with this work. The aptly titled piece features an incredible use of color and was painted in the tradition of plein air painting with great light. Toni is an extraordinary colorist. Her palette for this painting is nothing short of joyous.

A New York native, Toni moved to San Diego in 1972 and earned a Visual Arts degree from University of San Diego. Her inspiration to become an artist came from the 20th century Southern California landscape painters Maurice Braun, William Wendt, Charles Fries and Frank Bischoff.

Australian watercolorist Barbara Tapp painted several works at the Desert Sands Vintage RV Park. Each one is a treasure, and the many red dots indicating their sold status speak to how much the public loves her work. In her fluid, illustrative style, she displayed great sensitivity to the history and spirit of the vintage RV park. Her background as an Architectural Illustrator for 30 years supports her understanding of living spaces.

I highly recommend a visit to the show, which runs through March 28.

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