By Chris Weygandt Alba
Next time you squeeze a little toothpaste onto your brush, consider this: If it weren't for the squeezable tube, we wouldn't have some of the world's greatest art, Impressionism wouldn't have happened, and plein air painting wouldn't exist.
On the home front, we wouldn't have the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts on May 25 - 27 making waves in the national art community.
The invention of tube paint in 1841, as one scholar put it, "would redefine the direction of art." It made painting accessible to anyone, allowing them to leave their studios for the great outdoors (en plein air, in French) and revolutionizing the world of art.
The technical problems of putting oil paint into squeezable tin tubes forced radical stylistic changes in the way artists worked. Armed with those tubes, instead of the cumbersome method of grinding, mixing, and storing paint in pig bladders, artists could take their handy new box easels outside to paint haystacks and picnics, while the new consistency and colors of paint made them invent new styles of painting.
"Without tubes of paint," said Renoir, "there would have been no Impressionism."
Without portable paint, we wouldn't have Monet's poppies, or today's plein air paintings of bucolic hills and shining seas. Everyone still would be painting like Dutch Masters, looking a little glum on the wall.
Another invention that's been a spectacular hit is the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts (FOTA), and this year, its fourth, is going to be better than ever. Hosted by the city and Studios on the Park, FOTA is achieving its organizers' goal of becoming a premier fine-art event in California. Especially this year, when plein air painters at the top of their game will converge in Paso Robles.
And everyone's agog that THE art-magazine editor in the nation is coming from New York to visit, speak, and judge the plein air competition.
Why did renowned editor-in-chief Stephen Doherty of PleinAir Magazine (and former chief of American Artist magazine) agree to FOTA's request that he appear here in little Paso Robles? When I asked him, Steve said we're a hotbed of quality painters and he is impressed. But he didn't say it that briefly.
He named names, several of them, artists whose work has gained national stature, among them John Cosby, Kathleen Dunphy, and Marcia Burtt. And he said what a gold mine of information Paso's FOTA will be for him as an editor.
"My magazine has more subscribers in California than in any other state," Steve said. "Moreover, when I learned that [those] gifted artists were participating, I was convinced this is going to be a worthwhile event and I started making plans to be there."
Steve's lecture Friday evening, May 25, will show how history's greatest artists (equipped with that handy portable paint) set the stage for what is happening right here in Paso Robles.
Portable paint has given rise to "extreme painting" too, and Steve's bringing a photo gallery of plein air artists tackling cliffs, wild buffalo, and harsh conditions to paint outdoors, all chasing that euphoric moment when paint, brush, canvas, and scene collide in that holy place in an artist's eye.
"It's the joy of being alive," artist Anne Laddon told me, "that surprising moment when something unexpected grabs you, makes you see differently, and all your stuff is right there - You see it, hold on to it, and Bam! Bam! You paint it!"
Anne uses oil paint in tubes to capture goats and orange hills. In her studio at 1130 Pine Street, a farmer mows a hay field of manganese blue and cobalt turquoise. She laughs at that canvas and handles her well-squeezed tubes of paint.
"The thing about plein air is mostly making color notes, composition notes," she said, "because you can't finish in two hours. The payoff is the surprises when you're out there, the gift of those occasional moments. It's really fun to be alive."
Anne, the founder of Studios on the Park, is a driving force behind FOTA's catapulting into the national art scene, because she bravely asks the art elite and they say "yes." Then the FOTA committee reaches out and the people of Paso Robles share their hospitality to give everyone a good time.
"Painting is a pure connection between us and the world," artist Marcia told me. "It is one of life's great joys."
Featured in elite national art magazines for years, Marcia is a founding member of Santa Barbara's Oak Group, cited by Wikipedia as being instrumental in the resurgence of California's plein air reputation (see "Plein Oddities") and using art to promote environmental awareness.
Marcia's extraordinary work will be showcased at the festival's invitational "Plein Air Masters" in the Studios on the Park, alongside works by some of the best artists in the state, like expert artist-educators Ray Roberts and Peggi Kroll-Roberts (a master artist of the American Impressionist Society), who will lead special workshops the week prior to the daylong Saturday festival.
As juror of FOTA's "Local Color: Celebrating Authentic Beauty" art exhibition at the Studios, Marcia has chosen the work for the show. "Viewers can expect to get their socks knocked off!" Marcia said. "More wonderful works were submitted than we have room to exhibit, sot he quality will be tops."
On Saturday, May 26, the free, day-long Paso Robles Festival of the Arts kicks off at 9 a.m. with the simply amazing Plein Air Quick-Draw. More than two dozen gifted artists will be downtown, finding their inspiring scenes, and painting against the clock until 11 a.m., when their work goes on exhibit by the Carnegie library for judging by Steve Doherty and auctioning at 1 p.m.
There will be magical stiltwalkers, aerial performers, and giant sandcastles as the park overflows with interactive art projects for all ages, commentaries by accomplished artists, a youth zone, and an array of street performances and live music.
Under canopies in the park, 65 artists gifted in various media will exhibit and sell their artwork. The River Vision area will stimulate an interactive understanding of the Salinas River for all ages, while the River Lounge on Pine Street offers local brews and wines and a mid-afternoon concert.
It's going to be a spectacular experience.
One of the most expensive plein-air paintings in the world, Pierre Auguste Renoir's "Bal au moulin de la Galette" (1876), fetched $78 million at auction in 1990 Buyer Ryoei Saito caused an uproar when he said he wanted it cremated with him when he died, along with the Van Gogh "Portrait of Dr Gachet" ($82.5 million) he had purchased two days earlier (he later recanted).
Claude Monet called one of his early paintings "Impressionism, Sunrise" and thereby gave a name to an art movement. The 1874 exhibition including that work aroused great criticism.Years later he told a journalist, "I was born undiscipline-able. No one was ever able to make me stick to the rules, not even in my youngest days. I could never resolve to spend my time [in school] when the sun was shining bright, the sea was so beautiful and it was so good to run along the cliff-tops in the fresh air or frolic in the sea."
Another Near-Death Experience
The California Plein-Air School was a major movement in the early 20th century until California Impressionism fell from favor during the deep Depression years and was forgotten for four decades.
Then art connoisseurs rediscovered it. By the 1980s a California Plein-Air Revival was in full swing.
Today, California's Impressionist Edgar Payne's "Fifth Lake" (circa 1928) is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. His comprehensive 1941 book, "Composition of Outdoor Painting," had its seventh edition ins 2005. He was primarily self-taught.
On the morning of his wedding to Elsie Palmer in 1912, Edgar noticed that the light was perfect and asked Elsie to postpone the ceremony until the afternoon so he could paint. An artist herself, Elsie understood.
May 22 - 25
Two day paintings workshops with Ray Roberts (Tue/Wed) and Peggi Kroll-Roberts (Thur/Fri) workshop. Fee.
Friday, May 25
11 a.m. African American quilt artist Denise Sheridan, PhD, Lecture at City Hall Council Chambers. Free.
6:15 p.m. PleinAir Magazine editor Stephen Doherty Lecture: "Plein Air Painters: Crazy About Nature, or Just Plain Crazy?" at City Hall Council Chambers. Fee.
Saturday, May 26
4th Paso Robles Festival of the Arts
10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Downtown Park (Free)
Local Color Exhibition, Studios on the Park (1130 Pine St.)
Fine Art Show & Sale with 65 artists
Youth Art Zone: public mural project, art classrooms, stage performances every half-hour
River Vision Area: interactive environmental activities.
Sammy the Steelhead roams the park at 11, 12:30, 2
Street Performances, various park locations
Free bike valet, Horseshoe Pit area
9-11 a.m. Plein Air Quick-Draw
11-5 p.m. River Lounge open w/ local beer and wine, Pine St. (11th to 12th)
Dragon Knights Stilt Walkers, half-hour performances
12:45 p.m. Plein Air Masters Panel Discussion, Carnegie steps
1 p.m. Plein Air Quick-Draw Auction, Carnegie steps
3 p.m. $1000 Fine Art Ticket Draw, tickets to win $1000 for the purchase of Fine Art for sale at festival information booth from 10 a.m. on
3-5 p.m. Free concert, Mother Corn Shuckers, River Lounge area
Sunday, May 27
10-12 p.m. Art & Soul Brunch, Studios on the Park. Fee.
12-3 p.m. Collector's Tour, Studios on the Park, Paso Robles Art Association
Info: 238-9800, website: www.prcity.com/FOTA/ or email email@example.com