In this installment of Artrepreneur’s “What Makes Art Great” YouTube series, step into the contemporary landscape painting scene to explore two ways artists depict the beauty of nature: firsthand, by painting directly in the environment, or from their recollections. Cade Tompkins, director of art gallery Cade Tompkins Projects, leads the way in “Landscapes: Painting From Memory or En Plein Air” as she introduces contemporary landscape artists who deploy these different techniques to create works from larger-than-life scenes to evocative dioramas that stand only 2.5 inches tall.
En plein air painting, French for “in the open air,” was a practice popularized by the French Impressionists, most famously Claude Monet. By escaping the confines of the artist studio to paint directly from the landscape, the Impressionists were on a quest to capture the light filtering through the trees and how its quality changes throughout the day, to experience the ephemerality and fluctuation of the weather and translate it to the canvas. Notable contemporary landscape artists who continue to practice this technique include David Hockney, who uses tools from oils to iPads to render the English countryside in his enormous works, and Nancy Friese, whose joyful and brilliantly colored paintings are often completed during residencies that include arboretums and nature preserves across the U.S.
While these artists’ works are directly influenced by nature, others must communicate their vision secondhand, such as Thomas Sgouros, whose diagnosis of macular degeneration meant he had to find another way. In his Remembered Landscapes series, this contemporary artist draws from his memory to render evocative, expressive canvases.
What natural surroundings inspire you? What contemporary landscape paintings have stayed with you long after viewing? Show us the scene in the comments.
Editorial director and writer Allison Stice covers art, design and culture. Her work has been published in The Bitter Southerner, Garden & Gun, Savannah Magazine and more.