Art in the Air
Tucson Artists Featured in Mayor’s Gallery
Vermilion Cliffs End of Daylight by Janice MacKenzie (top left); Old Court House by Eric Jabloner (top right); Simpson Street by Lowell Richardson (bottom left); Bungalos by Jean Beck (bottom right)
Four Tucson artists’ plein air—painted outdoors—paintings were selected by Mayor Jonathon Rothschild to display in the Mayor’s Gallery, on the tenth floor of City Hall, for the current Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) exhibit. Now in its sixth year, the Mayor’s Gallery spotlights established and new artists. Artists Jean Beck, Eric Jabloner, Janice MacKenzie and Lowell Richardson each have several paintings on display celebrating the Sonoran outdoors.
The mayor chose images that reflect the historic, cultural and floral qualities of the city. “In a city that averages more than 300 days of sun a year, we thought it fitting to feature works painted outdoors, in the sunshine, for this show,” Rothschild said in the TPAC press release. “We appreciate how these Tucson artists have used the unique light of Tucson to inspire their work, and continue to inspire others through their art.”
En plein air artists are plentiful under the Southern Arizona sky. The desert sun produces stark shadow and brilliant light offering images ripe for the artistic eye to interpret. The French term translated as “open (in full) air” has come to be used to describe the act of painting outdoors. The painter reproduces the actual visual conditions seen at the time of the painting, in contrast with studio painting or by academic rules that create a predetermined look.
In his artist statement, Jabloner asks, “Can a painting prompt a viewer to create a narrative? Can a painting induce memories or rouse taste, smell and emotions?” The answer is yes in the context of en plein air painting. “My paintings, figurative, architectural, still life or spiritual, are narratives. My hope is that they capture the viewer by formulating their own narratives persuaded by their memories, senses and emotions,” says Jabloner.
Outdoor painting became popular in the mid-19th century when paints in tubes (similar to toothpaste) were introduced. Previously, painters made their own paints by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil. Artists’ portability increased with the introduction of the box easel with its built-in paint box and telescopic legs. With this freedom, artists could set up in any location.
French impressionist painters Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir advocated plein air painting. Outdoor painting from observation continued through the 20th century and into the 21st century. American impressionists, like the quartet in the Mayor’s Gallery showing and the members of the Tucson Plein Air Society, continue the tradition.
One of Beck’s canvases, “Bungalo”, depicts a residence almost hidden by foliage. A fourth generation native of Bisbee, Arizona, Beck traces her love of outdoor painting to childhood memories of winding streets and broad, hillside vistas. Beck developed her artistic eye during her early architectural education, leading to an “intuitive depth of observation.”
Beck describes her “tender sensitivity for historic places”, which infuses her art with a poetic feeling. “The works evoke clean airiness, a sense of great space, serenity and mystic glow.”
Jabloner included his impression of the Old Court House in the show. Beginning at age 17, he attended the University of Arizona, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree before going on to work for the Arizona Opera Company and the Arizona Theater Company as a scenic artist. Jabloner’s work ranges from Tucson downtown and barrio interpretations to exquisite people, animals and still life paintings.
MacKenzie’s “Vermillion Cliffs End of Daylight” presents a mountain range bathed in that magical light we see when the sun is on the horizon. MacKenzie received her BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and pursued a career as a graphic designer. Her main focus is the landscape, with plein air painting as an important path of her process. She is currently Chair of the Board of Directors at Tucson Plein Air Painters Society.
Richardson’s “Simpson Street” is a straight-on view of light and shadow angularity showing a street scape. A native Tucsonan who graduated from Arizona College of Fine Arts and had a 45-year career in graphic design in Chicago, Richardson’s plein air watercolors are as laconic as he is.
Plein air artists paint in all kinds of weather, among the birds, bugs, animals and people passing by. They’re a kind of public artist, having to work outside their studio walls. Each of the mayor’s chosen artists depicts a vision of the city and the surrounding landscape, including the sky in their images. The plein air show in the Mayor’s Gallery will be open until March 2016.
The Mayor’s Office, which includes the Mayor’s Gallery, is located at 255 W. Alameda St., 10th floor, Tucson. Jean Beck can be contacted through JeanBeckArt.com, Eric Jabloner through EricJabloner.com, Janice MacKenzie through JaniceMacKenzie.com and Lowell Richardson through LowellRich39@hotmail.com.
Dale Bruder is a freelance writer interested in creative people, social and cultural movements and applications of ancient esoteric knowledge. Connect with him at 520-331-1956