• By Ruth Wolf

Fun With Homonyms


Carol Taylor Kearney loves to play with words, as with Plein Air, Plain Air, Plane Air. This is the title she has given to the exhibition that she has curated at Cerulean Arts Gallery in Philadelphia. The artists presenting their work are (clockwise, starting top, left) Ellen Abraham, Roni Sheman Ramos, Melissa Rubin, Susan Stefanski, and Joan Walton. It is on view from January 30th through February 24th and there is an Artists Talk by Carol and Susan Stefanski on February 16th at 1 pm.

To define these like sounding words -

In traditional “plein air” painting the artist paints landscape, outdoors, on site finishing a painting in one session. “Plain” is defined as something simple, basic and straightforward or it is a flat area of grassland. A “plane” is something that flies in the sky or a flat 2 dimensional surface (as in the picture plane).

Lets see how these five artists - Susan Stefanski, Ellen Abraham, Roni Sherman Ramos, Melissa Rubin, Joan Walton - are using these terms - plein air, plain air, plane air - as curated by Carol Taylor Kearney.

Carol includes in the show one of her reverse painting on glass windows (located above Tina’s desk), in which she offers clues on how these terms can be used. She has even provided scrabble letters to help us on the journey.

I asked each artist which - plein air, plain air, plane air - best describes their practice.

Susan Stefanski exemplifies traditional plein air painting. Her landscapes are immediate, spontaneous and fresh. They are all executed on site. I asked Sue at what point do climate conditions compel you to put the brush down. “I like being outside.” She has painted in pouring rain and winter cold in order to capture “that unique light”. “The weather does not deter, [some of the paintings under the worst conditions] turn out the best.”

It is only when the weather effects the materials that she goes inside. It is difficult to paint with frozen paint.

Ellen Abraham’s drawings are also plein air. Although her subject is portrait rather than the traditional landscape, they are all executed on site. Ellen goes to where people gather to seek out those “types” which define our times.

“The thrill of the hunt for the iconic,” Ellen says is what motivates her. As she draws, she creates their stories, weaving portrait and place. Fun and thought-provoking work.

Roni Sherman Ramos’ paintings depict a plain (as in a flat grassland) of marks. These marks

“go through me, [they are] not of me”. Roni’s marks are pushed into the surface; pigment is layered. The image is allowed to percolate. Layers are added, washed out, scraped off. The surface is “excavated”, more marks. She is constructing a record of her process. The resulting plain is the actual record of planes of aesthetic time.

Melissa Rubin works with cold wax. Hers is an emotional, plain (as in basic and clear) reaction to her environment. Melissa lives on the beach, and the vague reference of a transitory, atmospheric horizon penetrates her picture plane. Interesting that she works with a vertical (portrait) format to depict horizontal, giving just enough information to interpret brushstroke as landscape.

Both Roni and Melissa set up a dynamic spatial energy that invigorates the picture plane and the surface dances with color and light.

Joan Walton is a ceramicist. What is her picture

plane? Slabs of clay forming hand built organic vessels

juxtapose deeply textured external planes with smoothly glazed, fluid, luminescent internal surfaces. Joan pushes past gouged exterior surfaces and asks us to look for “the beauty hidden inside”.

"What seemed like as easy question: plein air, plain air, plane air... what best describes your practice?" showed a complexity of process. Making art work combines all definitions of so many terms - "observation of the environment", "clarity", "materials and surface", AND the picture plane.

Ruth Wolf is a Philadelphia-based artist who works in drawing, painting, and instillation. Her works which often incorporate unusual means and materials are available at Cerulean Arts. She has written previously for www.WhatsArtBlog.com including posts on critiques ("Another Set of Eyes"), Andy Warhol's retrospective at the Whitney Museum ("An Artist's View: Andy Warhol"), and on Side Street Gallery (Sidling Into Side Street).

On February 16th Plein Air, Plain Air, Plane Air curator, Carol Taylor-Kearney and exhibiting artist, Susan Stefanski, talked about the exhibition and their work. Above is the video of that talk. Many thanks to Tina Roche and Michael Kowbuz for this opportunity and this video!

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