Artists have always relied on a deep connection with the land as a source for inspiration, none more so than plein air painters. Near the turn of of the last century, Plein air, or “open air,” painting gained world recognition through the art of the French Impressionists, who ventured into fields and forests to observe firsthand how light moved across the land. Impressionism forever changed how artists viewed the landscape.
American artists soon embraced this new approach to painting and began to interpret their regional landscapes in plein air. Art colonies sprang up in villages all across the country. It was in these small rural communities that artists went afield to paint, study and critique each others work. Lifelong friendships were made and immeasurable artistic growth gained. That tradition continues today, as plein air painting is enjoying tremendous widespread popularity with artists and collectors alike. It was in this spirit of cooperative friendship, Plein Air Artists of West Michigan was born.
On May 17th, ten artists arrived at Cold Brook Park in Kalamazoo County for the groups inaugural meeting and paint out. At days end a lively critique was held of the days paintings. With new friendships gained and an exciting energy to push it forward the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan was a reality.
Many PAAWM artists show in some of Michigan's finest galleries and have participated in plein air events across the region. In August 2008, a partnership was formed between PAAWM and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. Over the next year paint outs were held on SWMLC preserves, sanctuaries and conservation easements. Some of the resulting paintings from those sites were selected for the Conservancy's first ever calendar "Painted Sanctuary 2010." Two very successful art shows, curated by Gallery 344 in Kalamazoo, wrapped up the "Painted Sanctuary" project which included all of the paintings created over the year at SWMLC sites. The commission from painting sales during the shows was given to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy to benefit its land preservation projects.
Whether someone paints in a studio or outdoors they usually paint alone. Forming this fellowship of artists gives PAAWM members the opportunity like the painters years ago to connect, share ideas and learn from each other while building lasting friendships.
Richard Jordan, director of the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan, welcomes artists to Cold Brook Park in Kalamazoo County for the inaugural meeting and paint out held by the group on May 17, 2008.
Helen Kleczynski paints from the dock during the first paint out of the the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan.
From front to back, Artists Evan Jordan, Helen Kleczynski, Brian Smith, Mike Pendola and Susan Badger discuss watercolors painted by Susan during the afternoon critique at the first paint out of the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan.