Studio Spaces: Painting En Plain Air

Susan Marx discusses her process of painting en plain air.

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by Susan Marx

Why am I a Plein air painter? I think I have always been attracted to the light, the color, and the air outside. When I paint outside, the painting, the process, and the result are more intense.

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I always knew I wanted to be a painter. I have been painting since I was four. And I was always drawn to painting outside. I studied painting at Boston University where I received a BFA in painting, and when we had still life arrangements set up to paint in the studio, I would often turn my easel to the window to paint the Charles River instead. I attended a seminar in France, ‘Art Study Giverny,’ where we painted in Monet’s Garden on Mondays when the garden was open to gardeners and painters and on other days of the week after the tourists left at 5 pm. During the day, we painted in other places in town and in other neighboring cities in Normandy where Monet had painted. That experience was a changing point in my artistic career. I feel like I inherited part of Monet’s soul!

There is something about standing barefoot on the grass looking at and smelling what is in front of you. I often joke that the inspiration starts from my feet and then works itself up to my brain. I smell the colors of nature before I paint them. The act of painting is experiential, and I want to convey the emotions I experience while being out of doors, seeing the light and color, and smelling the air on the finished canvas. My art comes from my radical amazement at the visual world around me, and my need to turn that visual experience into paint. Nature is my starting point, but not my end result. I observe nature very carefully and respond spontaneously to what I see and feel. I think of painting as drawing in color, relating warm and cool colors with each expressive paint-filled brushstroke. It’s my personal handwriting.

I love color. I see color everywhere. I am drawn to a specific spot for some indefinable reason. And look and look and look. Something catches my eye. I load up my palette, pick up a brush, holding it as a conductor would hold his baton, and begin.

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I call myself a modern Abstract Impressionist. I paint outside, en Plein Air, which lets me truly experience and feel the landscape I am painting. Working with acrylics allows me to record my color impressions quickly, with immediacy. I am abstract in that my goal is not to reproduce what is in front of me, but to turn nature into something of my own: my vision, my paint-filled brushstrokes, my emotions. I don’t paint flowers to paint flowers. I paint flowers to paint color. I love color. I see color everywhere. Something catches my eye and I am drawn to a specific spot for some unexplainable reason – and I look and look and look. I load up my palette, pick up a brush, holding it as a conductor would hold his baton, and begin. At that point, I don’t speak to the canvas; instead, the canvas speaks to me. My feet are barefoot feeling the grass; I smell the flowers in front of me. I am transported. I paint but lose my sense of time. Fast, faster, passionately painting, furiously painting. I cannot get the colors down fast enough. I am at one with nature as I create. Then suddenly I need air. I stop and stand back. The séance is over. The painting is done.

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Susan Marx Le Mer, L'Anse de Columbier
Le Mer, L’Anse de Columbier, St. Barts, Acrylic on Canvas

I try to capture the essence of the scene in my painting, the color and the emotion, and leave the rest to the viewer’s imagination, thus inviting him into the painting. Someone once said I work to the muse of Monet, Van Gogh, and Joan Mitchell (Joan Mitchell did not paint en Plein Air but captured the essence of nature in her work); I was thrilled. Those artists have helped guide me to develop my own personal visual expression and style to share with the world. In the cold of winter, I often travel to warm climates where I can paint outside. Last winter I was on a windjammer in the Caribbean. The boat stopped at a small secluded cove on the island of St. Barts. I tried for an hour but could not get my portable easel to stand up in the sand due to the strong winds. So I had to paint with the canvas flat on the sand. The challenge enhanced the result. The painting, ‘L’Anse de Colombier,’ has a freshness that I could not have captured in the studio or painting from a photograph.


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To learn more about Susan Marx, please visit her Artist Profile. To view available for sale works, check Susan’s ARTmine Page.

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