Plein Air Abstraction brings together the painting of seven American artists who paint from the direct observation of nature. They paint not what they see, but what they feel upon seeing it.
Many of the great abstract paintings of the last hundred years were based on landscape subjects. And many of these, even when devoid of recognizable subject matter, resulted from the artists’ observation of and response to the real world. These paintings translate nature onto canvas, moving from “plein air” to “abstraction” through the artists’ interpretive vision.
Of the seven painters in Plein Air Abstraction, five live in southern California, one in northern California, and one in upper New York State. The latter artist, Susan Sommer, derives inspiration from the rolling foothills and dramatically changing vegetation of the Catskill Mountains. Gina Werfel, who lives in Davis, responds similarly to the hills and plains of the Sacramento Valley as well as the Umbrian region near Rome, Italy. Both painters, educated back east and influenced by the New York school, respond to topography and vegetation with what the abstract expressionists called a “loaded brush.”
So does Luc Leestemaker, who was born in Holland and now resides in the Hollywood Hills. Leestemaker responds gesturally to the sea and mountains of southern California, while the line-filled, delicately colored work of Elizabeth Chandler, who divides her time between downtown Los Angeles and Desert Hot Springs, is impacted by the urban and desert environments. Working in Los Angeles, Joan Perlman bases her expansive monochromatic paintings on her concentrated study of the glaciers, glacial rivers, and alluvial plains of Iceland. By contrast, Orange County-based Janet Rosener creates her luminous, near-minimal paintings on the colors and forms she finds in her own garden. San Pedro resident Marie Thibeault combines what she sees in the Long Beach area with what she sees in the newspaper – in particular the impressive scenes of Gulf Coast devastation following Hurricane Katrina.
These seven painters, and many more beside them throughout the country, follow in a tradition that not only descends from the beginnings of abstraction but has produced some of the monuments of modern art, among them Kandinsky’s Improvisations, Mondrian’s post-cubist geometries, O’Keeffe’s luminous and fluid images, and De Kooning’s dynamic depictions of urban and rural space. The breadth of vision and ambition afforded by landscape painting or abstract painting alone fuses in such nature- and space-influenced abstraction to provide an exhilarating and always fresh visual universe. When the landscape aspect of such abstraction results from direct observation, the results are yet fresher.