The historic architecture of Speightstown, the sparkling azure waters on the west coast and the rugged terrain of Chalky Mount, all provided panoramic views for local artists who participated in CARIFESTA XIII’s En Plein Air Painting event.
En plein air is the act of painting outdoors. In French, it means “open air” or “outside”. This form of painting has been around since the 1600s but came into its own in the early 1860s when four young artists dubbed “the young rebels” met while attending art school in France and began painting in the open air, not just to make sketches to be developed later in the studio as was customary at that time, but to produce finished works on location.
Renowned artists, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frederic Bazille shared an interest in painting landscapes and discovered that by painting in sunlight, directly from nature, they could better represent the true colours and feel of a scene.
Local artist Neville Legall, who conducted this year’s en plein air workshop run by the National Cultural Foundation, said Barbados provides the perfect backdrop for en plein air painting with its many scenic outdoor venues.
He disclosed that this year’s workshop produced “a good cross section of artists who were very excited about the experience”.
Because the NCF workshop is only held once a year for 10 weeks, there are now plans to form a movement of en plein air artists who will get together once or twice a month to paint at locations around the island.
“En plein air painting is very popular and people travel around the world to attend workshops and to paint under the tutelage of an outstanding en plein artist. I really hope that this catches on here since it offers an opportunity for artists to develop,” Mr. Legall maintained.
He explained the difference between studio and en plein air artists. “Studio artists work from photographs. With en plein air artists working outdoors, decisions must be made quickly because light is always changing. They must work fast and it becomes even more challenging if weather conditions change, for example, if it rains.”
One artist who participated in the CARIFESTA event and who has been attending NCF workshops since 2009 is Juliette Clarke. She explained that she had always enjoyed art in school, but after graduating had given it up until 2009 when she saw an advertisement in the newspaper for the NCF en plein air workshop.
“As soon as I saw the ad I signed up because I love the outdoors and I love nature.”
In her view, painting outdoors is never boring.
“You go into communities and meet some very interesting people who share the history of the area.”
Clarke, a gallery attendant at the Barbados Arts Council, adds that she comes into contact with both tourists and locals and there is a lot of interest in paintings portraying Barbadian scenes. She enjoys painting beach scenes and the serenity of the sea but also loves painting market scenes and capturing images of life around Barbados on canvas.
“I think this is particularly important because some of these districts may be dramatically changed by next year or the year after and so it is important that artists document these important aspects of Barbadian life.”
Kelly Ann Bailey was also in Speightstown for the CARIFESTA event, painting the view of the ocean from the Esplanade, a piece that was so well executed that by the end of the event, it was sold.
Kelly Ann is also a participant in the NCF workshops and has been painting off and on for 10 years.
“It’s relaxing, I feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s finished and people admire the work.”
She says she benefits immensely from interaction with the artists who oversee the sessions… “they give you helpful insights on how you can improve and make it better”. The challenge for en plein air artists, she explains, is keeping the image that you want to capture in your head because “the light is always shifting, the colour of the water is always changing so you have to have a mental image of what you want when you’re done.”
Maria Stanford agrees. “The light is constantly changing so you must pick a scene and stick with it. I love seascapes – the colours and how the light hits the water. It’s never boring. You can come back in an hour and will view something completely different.”
She is a designer so she has always been involved in art but painting is a new experience which she is really enjoying. “I love being outside and seeing all the activity and interesting subjects. It keeps the experience alive and vibrant. I also enjoy meeting people around Barbados with all their stories.”