“Greg McHuron was known to wrestle sheets of plywood through various Ice Ages just so he could stand on them without sinking into the frozen depths. But Greg was part Woolly Mammoth.” ~ Plein air painter Erin C. O’Connor
This Jackson Hole winter! Folks have mentioned a craving to chew their legs off. But if you’re an artist the show goes on, and being shut in or facing stupendously challenging weather conditions often leads to improvisation, new creative themes and awakenings of a different sort.
Plein air painter Kathy Wipfler is a true veteran of painting outdoors. Solid and sensible, her practices spring from a lifetime of ranching and hard outdoor work. A long-time member of the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters, she knows a thing or two.
“Having painted on location here in every season for 36 years, I have a few tricks of the trade to stay as warm as possible. Painting a small format is one of them,” writes Wipfler. “Standing on Blue Board keeps the cold from my feet just a little longer than standing directly on the snow, and having the right boots is important. Painting sunlit snow is a passion, but there have been limited sunlit days so far this winter.”
Wipfler says another challenge is simply finding an accessible turnout to set up her easel and park. “Parking on the road’s shoulder is not so smart. I’ve spent time and effort shoveling out spaces whenever it’s feasible.”
Wipfler’s “Deep Winter – Jackson Hole,” pictured above, is so painterly I can almost feel the artist’s rich brushstrokes simply by looking. They convey the weight of this winter, its frigid cold, and a sense of muffled winter beauty. Wipfler’s snowdrifts are a pillow upon which the mountain rests.
Kay Stratman is experimenting with her “alter studio ego.”
Stratman’s “Natural Abstractions,” comprised of watercolor and wax works, focus on what the artist describes as “amazingly colorful natural occurances that scream for exploration/exploitation/ abstraction.”
Stratman’s work (which she says has always favored essence over traditional form) is focused on subjects ranging from Yellowstone’s brilliant hot springs to “the mysteries of stellar nebula or northern lights.”
“People are familiar with watercolor as a medium and perhaps even encaustic wax,” writes Stratman. “But I combine both media in my work to present an interesting dichotomy. Watercolor and wax shouldn’t even be able to mix, should they? However, each medium becomes obvious upon close inspection, and the view from farther away brings the suggested subject matter to light. The pieces themselves are splash and poured watercolors on rice paper, infused with encaustic wax (molten beeswax) that makes the paper translucent, allowing me to fuse layers together to create depth of color.”
Erin C. O’Connor
“I know an artist who used to work for the phone company; he swiped one of those tents that they put over utility boxes so they can work in inclement weather; now he uses it to paint outside. At 17 below zero, I’d need the tent, the Enormo-Heat-Blaster, and the heated brush handles,” reveals painter Erin C. O’Connor.
I imagine O’Connor’s “Uppity Chick” smile.
During winter months O’Connor focuses on studio work and brings unfinished “warmer months” paintings to completion. At this time last year O’Connor was in Nicaragua, and she’s “finding welcome refuge in re-exploring those scenes.”
“It all plays back to me like a tape recording ~ the warmth, the humidity, the lyrical conversations, the people I met, all the things I learned,” she says. “Color upon color upon color. This has been my antidote to grey. This has been my rebellion to the cold.”
O’Connor updates her website during winter months, and she’s just been named as the newest member of the Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters Board of Directors. When Plein Air for the Park ” gorgeously unfolds in July, it’s because we’ve thoroughly scrutinized the acrobatics well before summer.”
Next post, we’ll hear from a few more of Jackson’s ultra-talented women artists! All strive to be the best that they can be. Transcending fads and trends, they are wicked strong rungs on Jackson’s art history ladder, and their art endures.
In national art news, it was announced earlier this month that the NEA is in dire straits. Our new administration is strongly considering budget cuts that could eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. If executed, this spells disaster for art interests across the country. Such a step even stands to cancel important exhibitions like SFMOMA’s Matisse-Diebenkorn show. Read a little about this impending legislation here.