Archive for the 'En Plein Air' Category

“LITTER-ALLY KENTUCKY” takes shape . . .

Friday, September 30th, 2022

“The thing is to be attentively present. To sit and wait is as important as to move. Patience is as valuable as industry. What is to be known is always there. When it reveals itself to you, or when you come upon it, it is by chance. The only condition is your being there and being watchful.”
— Wendell Berry
 

At the close of 2021, based on my plein-air practice to date, I applied to the Kentucky Arts Council and received a KAR grant with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The goal of my project is an exhibition-worthy body of collage landscapes created from salvaged ingredients consisting of litter, trash, and recycled papers. The new works are en plein air interpretations of actual rural spots in Central Kentucky. The collection will be made available to partnering venues as a thematic exhibition that carries a call for greater awareness of how we interact with our environment. The traveling display will invite community engagement in the form of gallery talks, student opportunities, and online references — with a message for greater litter awareness and a cleaner environment in the Commonwealth.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
To fulfill this grant-supported process, I am nearing the end of my creation phase. It’s been a period of acquiring paper litter, arranging visits to rural locations, engaging with property owners who accommodate my on-site sessions, starting the landscapes outside, and making follow-up studio refinements. Collage artworks will have been made at over a dozen locations in six contiguous Central Kentucky counties around Danville. I avoid exceeding my outside time when completing a landscape indoors, to stay within a 50:50 ratio. There are techniques for details that are best left to the end, when the breeze is not a factor, but my goal is to retain the fresh, intuitive quality of the initial impression.

It often seems like I’m behind schedule, until I remind myself that the entire process is not unlike the act of being present in nature. The way forward can be revealed as much by receptivity as by forced progression. I’ll spend the balance of the year with finishing touches, having the artwork professionally framed, preparing support materials and promotions for my sought-after series of shows, plus contacting venues suitable for the traveling display (which will be chosen in part based on the anticipated reach and exposure for optimum audiences, including youngsters).

An important part of this project has been my desire to interact with the public about a relatively recent area of concentration for me as an artist — representational collage. Until they observe more closely, many people think my landscapes are traditional paintings. It’s been rewarding to watch this sense of discovery, so similar to what I experience as I explore the potential of art made from paper. This connection with others fired my enthusiasm and prompted me to propose a way to engage audiences with another layer of meaning. By including a higher percentage of litter and trash, I hope to further a conversation about the ongoing problem of litter in Kentucky and the solid waste crisis in general. As I exhibit “painted” rural scenes that were created with by-products of our wasteful society, I’m optimistic that my art will promote a more conscious regard for stewardship of natural places.

 

Near Catnip Hill
collage en plein air by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
8.375 x 8.625 inches, 2022

Her Back Door

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

“Don’t come a-knockin’ around my door
Don’t wanna see your shadow no more
Coloured lights can hypnotize
Sparkle someone else’s eyes.”
Burton Cummings
 

Here’s a recent plein air collage of mine that’s on display in the conference center exhibition presented by the Arts Commission of Danville / Boyle County at Constitution Square. I consider this in the category of “miniature house portraits,” which would pose challenges in any medium. Working with paper (particularly when outside) makes for a tricky process of interpreting perspective. It’s been suggested that I didn’t precisely nail the proper vanishing points with this one, even though I did my finished architectural treatments in the studio. In addition to that, I’ve intentionally introduced a contrast of crisp detail and soft ambiguity, with a debatable degree of success. I guess that the “eye of the beholder” has to take it from there.

 

Her Back Door
collage en plein air by J A Dixon
7.125 x 9 inches
50:50 site/studio
available for purchase

Our “En Plein Air” show in Danville

Monday, August 22nd, 2022

“And yet, standing at his appointed place, the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths. He neither serves nor rules — he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel.”
— Paul Klee
 

Another anticipated En Plein Air annual exhibition has appeared and vanished, my sixth consecutive participation since I took up the challenge of “painting in papers” with the PAACK. My sincere thanks to Art Center of the Bluegrass for continuing to support our regional group!

The two miniatures that I included in the show are featured here. Completing both of them in the studio raised some concerns that I’d be able to retain my on-site impression as I made detailed additions too delicate for outdoor work. Did I manage to do it?

 

East End Survivor
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6 x 7.125 inches, framed 11 x 14
available for purchase

 

Gardener’s Nook
collage miniature by J A Dixon
6.25 x 7.25 inches, framed 11 x 14
available for purchase

A satisfying momentum . . .

Wednesday, June 15th, 2022

I’ve been out on location, painting in papers — to build a new series of collage landscapes that I shall talk more about soon!

 

 

PAACK kicks off 2022 season!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

I really enjoyed PAACK’s chilly kickoff outing at the home of Mrs. Penn. As everyone began to focus on her exploding flower beds, I turned my attention in the other direction (for some odd reason). I couldn’t deny an interest in her staging nook near a teal fence (in the same way I was captivated by the back of Tillie’s garage last year). I’m completing the collage I started that day, and it will be a challenge to finish it for our summer show within the 50:50 limitation. I wouldn’t mind interpreting the gardening table, but I’ll need to omit that element to pull this off. I’d rather “move” the nearby bird feeder into my composition for a splash of complementary color, and also to find some way, within the remaining time, to “paint” the hay bales with paper ingredients.

Do I have to count the minutes I spend staring at my reference photo?
 
 
 

My 50:50 time constraint will necessitate simplification,
but inserting the colorful bird feeder is a given!

Tenth Chapter: Painting from nature with paper

Saturday, February 19th, 2022

“Follow the ways of natural creation, the becoming, the functioning of forms, then perhaps starting from nature you will achieve formations of your own, and one day you may even become like nature yourself and start creating.”
— Paul Klee
 

As I pushed toward the hanging date for Change of Seen last month, I pulled out an unfinished work. In 2020 it had been my hope to complete it as part of the Paint By Nature entry — an interpretation of an urban oak tree. Everything was done except for the tree itself, which I’d wanted to paste together in a burst of spontaneity. The “start” went into cold storage when I ran out of time for two submissions. Fast forward to January 2022. Now I had the ideal scenario. My tight deadline would not allow me to indulge any slowdown or second guess. Positive, unanticipated things often happen when I occasionally challenge myself to work under a severe constraint. The hesitant, rational mind is sidelined in favor of an intuitive response that is rooted in everything one has ever created. This can be the case with music, writing, or nearly any artistic format, but the phenomenon especially lends itself to painting.

Interestingly, I’ve always preferred watercolors to other paint mediums because of its unpredictability and the “happy accidents” that occur. I admire oils greatly, but they hold no attraction for me as I approach my 70s. I hadn’t expected to discover that “painting in papers” could captivate me so and knit a reverence for nature into my art. One of the primary appeals of collage is total flexibility. It’s almost impossible to make a blunder, if one stays “in the zone” without letting the intellect gain an upper hand. When others use words such as exacting or meticulous to describe what I do, it usually throws me, because I consider my approach as more instinctive. And yet, there is no denying the presence of “artisanship.” With any task at hand, craft is essential. It was drilled into me with rigor after I chose the path of applied design. (That the young are asked to dedicate themselves to a particular discipline and to ignore countless alternatives is a weird fact of life. Many of us spend decades unraveling it.) So, a certain precision is fused into my method, even when I’m racing the clock. One man’s chaos is another man’s perfectionism.

I’ve lived my adult life trying to spin creative gold in a studio of one sort or another. A supremacy of the natural world in my youth had been set aside as part of an itinerary toward the graphic arts profession. Reflecting on a long journey that leads to the ever-rolling “now,” I recognize that nature was always calling. It influenced my leaving big cities for a smaller community. It provided a firm foundation for my diet and a health-oriented lifestyle. It was an unfailing source for well-being when conditions seemed out of balance. Even so, an unsatisfied need remained elusive until I finally took paper and paste outdoors, where the potential for inspiration was out of arm’s reach. That I could respond with collage, and find it so rewarding, is something I hadn’t foreseen.

If you want to start with the first chapter, you can find that story here. It’s been almost five years of direct observation, and I’m itching to begin a new season of working en plein air. The broader point I’d like to make is how the experience also has invigorated the way I approach representational collage in the studio. It feels like it’s all been funneled into an evolving intuition. Working outside has transformed how I make visual decisions even when using photographic reference under pressure, as I did with Grand Chinkapin. After quickly preparing piles of printed scrap that seemed appropriate for tree foliage, I was able to explode those ingredients into place with a minimum of conscious thought — not unlike I try to do every time I take my collage kit on location. “Painting from nature with paper” has become a more integrated practice, inside or outside. Change of Seen shares this adventure with others.

 

Grand Chinkapin
collage with combined mediums by J A Dixon
0% / 100% — site to studio
11 x 7.75 inches + shadow-box frame
available for purchase

Watch my new artist bio by Fine Art Photographics!

Thursday, February 3rd, 2022

   

 

   

Immense thanks to Brett Henson, John Hockensmith, and Kate Savage for bringing this video to fruition! For anyone who wants to discover a bit more about my plein-air approach to making collage landscapes.

Cave Spring | 2019-2021

Friday, October 29th, 2021

“The most important thing
a painter can do is find
a good place to sit.”
— J.E.H. MacDonald
 

I started this miniature on location in 2019, deep into a hollow that reveals a natural site which offered the only large amount of “refrigeration” available to Kentucky pioneers in the region. My vision for a final look required more indoor time than could ever meet a qualification for en plein air. Paper can be a stern schoolmaster in the studio at times, and I’ve been known to get prickly under his tutelage, but Mother Nature smiles when I “return home.”
 
 
 

(above, left) A collage ‘start’ in the woods taking shape on my clipboard.

(above, right) The completed location work fell short of a finished landscape.

 
 

Cave Spring
collage miniature by J A Dixon
started on location / finished indoors
7.25 x 7.5 inches
available to collectors

Still Life with Peony Tulips

Monday, October 11th, 2021

“We think of the things we own and use as defining us in some way, but that can only be true if we first describe the things. Describing is a remarkable human act. It connects our inner and outer experience: as we observe and record the material world, we respond and reflect. We enter the realm where the material world meets the imagination. That’s the fertile ground of art.”
– Sheldon Tapley
 

I created this artwork for The Object Seen: Contemporary Still Life, current exhibition at Art Center of the Bluegrass in Danville. The juror was Sheldon Tapley, masterful painter, draftsman, and Stodghill Professor of Art at Centre College. I received a 2nd-place ribbon and cash prize. The honor came as a surprise, since I don’t consider myself a practitioner or student of still life as an art form. I have, however, looked deeply at artwork made by Sheldon and those who are. The arms-length quality of modern still life has compelled my close scrutiny for many years. Given that influence, I brought to the genre what I’ve discovered by “painting in papers” from direct observation (the long sweep of art history hovering somewhere outside my conscious awareness, with its rich tradition of artists tackling visual cornacopias of objects and edible fare). I decided to interpret a tabletop group of objects from raw material, rather than assemble a conventional collage composition from found images.

Please view a video clip of the juror’s remarks about my artwork.

The peony tulip blossoms were created en plein air in a local flower garden. The small “still life within a still life” was commenced and partially finished from a setup of actual objects. I relied on photo reference for the rest. Ingredients include colored paper (printed and unprinted), wallpaper, ruined book parts, tissue, reclaimed tea bags, string, and a dried leaf, plus minimal use of walnut juice, burnt coffee, tinted paste, and marker-ink edging. Adhesives include wheat paste, acrylic matte medium, and white glue.

 

Still Life with Peony Tulips
collage on salvaged canvas
18 x 23.75 inches

•  Second Place Prize

Ninth Chapter: Taking in a last view from her ridge . . .

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

“I always have to watch out for falling into copying what I see accurately, but somehow losing the poetry of expressively applied paint in the process. Accuracy with expressiveness is the key! Remembering this saying from David Leffel… ‘The beauty of the painting always comes first; accuracy always a dismal last.’”
— Bill Fletcher
 

As I prepare for my first solo exhibition of collage landscapes, I reflect on an exceptional season of working outside with the PAACK and how much I appreciate everybody who helped kick off 2021 with a return to Kelley Ridge last April, especially my “big sis.” I have six marvelous siblings, but only my sister Joan arrived before me. She is my oldest friend, confidante, and role model. Joan inherited a wild place and a half-built dwelling through one of the worst tragedies that a woman can experience, but — with faith and perseverance — she endured an unimaginable grief and transformed the shell of a house into a home. It’s a remarkable abode. The previous year I’d created a collage portrait of it when Joan hosted the first Art Out on her ridge. When I learned that she planned to put the farmstead on the market sometime in 2021, I knew I had to turn my attention outward from “Cardinal Haven” and challenge myself to capture one of its spectacular views with torn paper.
 
     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I have fond memories of that event, because I met the affable Roger Snell that day, and we chose a similar viewscape on which to focus. Snell was “freshly retired” as one of the architects of the Kentucky Proud initiative for state economic development, and he was clearly thrilled to be entering his new life as a full time painter.

After a decent start, I worked through the afternoon and came away with a piece that I thought was close to having been finished on location. “Just a few finishing touches to go,” I told myself, but the more I looked at it in the studio, the more I wanted to continue adding contrasting layers for more depth and complexity. Doing that without sacrificing an impression of intuitive choices was not an easy process. I had to stay “in the zone.” By the time I was satisfied, it had became one of those studio-invested pieces that will never be classified as a plein-air artwork. So be it.

I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface with this particular approach to collage landscape. The distinction between direct observation, photographic influence, and pure imagination is becoming blurred. The outside/indoor time ratio is often taking a backseat to my achieving a certain end, with a desirable balance of improvisational spontaneity and pictorial authenticity leading the way.

 

From Her Ridge
collage miniature by J A Dixon
8 x 9 inches
private collection

Eighth Chapter: Annual PAACK show opens . . .

Friday, August 27th, 2021

En Plein Air
an exhibition of recent
work by the Plein Air
Artists of Central Kentucky

It’s been an exceptional season for making art outdoors, and our local Art Center of the Bluegrass is currently presenting many of the resulting creations. I have six collage miniatures on display as part of the show. Enjoy the exhibit in-person or browse the virtual gallery until 9/11.

One of the highlights of the spring was our gathering at the backyard of Lee and David Simpson, with its quiet explosion of white and pink dogwood trees. They were certainly calling attention to themselves here and all over Danville. What a perfect day to be outside with the PAACK and “painting with paper,” thanks to my mobile collage kit. After some initial work, I gradually became convinced the scene was taking shape. As location coordinator for the day, I’d gotten off to an awkward start. I eventually came away from the pleasurable day with a solid interim stage, but as I began to finish the trees in the studio, it was clear that the piece needed more than details to improve it. When I decided that the foreground was too deep, I impetuously peeled off the base and moved it up an inch or so — after all, this is collage. That one modification helped everything about the look. The rest of the process became obvious. If I reinforced the sun-activated colors and spent a bit more time with the fence area on the right side, I could declare it finished, as long as I stayed within an overall time allocation that was legitimately en plein air. I was pleased to achieve a 70%/30% solution.

Whenever I gather under the sky with traditional landscape painters, their impressive work challenges me to “do my thing” with paper. With each outing, it’s feeling more like I’m painting, too! This was true in May, when we spread out to interpret the country home site of Paula and Ken Scott. A particular view of their wrap-around porch and surrounding garden captured my eye. I wanted to combine some hard-edge cutting with my evolving “brushstroke” technique. As is often the case, I pushed the finishing touches back in the studio to the 50/50 limit, matching my location time with more detailed refinements indoors. I’m still trying to solve how to bring something closer to a level of interesting density while still outside. Perhaps I’ll find that, by necessity, a totally site-based collage needs to be simpler in expression and more decisive in composition. A milestone in June and the subsequent Paint the Town experience would drive home the point, and also emphasize the importance of having a supply of “prepared papers” on hand to boost speed and expand my available vocabulary of effects.

I like to work outside because I like to be outside. When I formerly thought of myself as an amateur triathlete, I’d cross-train right through the hottest days of the summer. It doesn’t bother me to extend an Art Out into the late afternoon. Sometimes the morning shade has long since abandoned me. If I’m well into the groove, I can barely notice. Before I get totally off the subject here, I should state that I actually rely on direct sunlight to promote the drying of my collage surface, since I’m usually working wet-on-wet. A good example of this was the day PAACK gathered in the nearby Forkland community. I don’t fault others for finding a shady spot to paint. I set up not far away in the open sun.

In the decades since this Ohioan adopted Central Kentucky as my permanent home, I’ve developed an affection for the distinct topography and knobby woodlands of our area. Sure, the famous horse farms and limestone palisades are always handy, but I’ll never get enough of the unique contours of a “gumdrop horizon.” The Forkland community, which straddles three adjacent counties, was a destination that fit my attachment to “The Knobs”. The result was On the North Rolling Fork, one of my favorite landscape miniatures of the year.

 

Dogwood Day
collage miniature by J A Dixon
70% / 30% — site to studio
8 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

 

Country Porch
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
7.75 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase

 

On the North Rolling Fork
collage miniature by J A Dixon
50% / 50% — site to studio
8 x 7.75 inches
available for purchase