Creating beauty in the open air

We visited the NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize last week. This annual event shows a range of works from artists who have really got stuck into the practice of plein air work.



Tom Carment, Afternoon shadow, William Street. Oil on linen, 100 x 87cm. This piece was the winner.


This type of discipline, much like painting generally I suppose, has an air of romance and glamour about it, but in fact is anything but. Even on the East coast of Australia, the perfect weather for this kind of endeavour can be elusive. It’s a practice that needs practise: lots of it, as you’re generally painting against the clock. I find (and I speak as a rank beginner) I need to shrug off self-doubt, second thoughts and everything else, and just do the bloody thing.



Susan J White, Squall Line Maitland, ink on paper 50 x 40cm. I love the simplicity of this work.


The show is hung in Parliament House; a venue I don’t inhabit apart from the annual pilgrimage to this Exhibition. It’s kind of dignified, as you would imagine. Serious; weighty with tradition, and lots of photos of old blokes in wigs. The paintings are positioned in a foyer area, encircling an central core which has a fountain and a light-well.

There is a slight air of disjunct with this show in this venue. There shouldn’t be I suppose – the Prize is designed to perpetuate the tradition of plein air painting that has been a part of Australian art since Colonisation. The other aim is to promote New South Wales as a location; a place worth thinking about. I guess maybe it’s because I imagine each of the artists out there in their paint-besmirched trakkies, cursing because the wind is coming up and they need more bulldog clips to keep their paper in place. That sort of thing. Messy reality, amongst the august traditions of Parliament.



Rachel Ellis, Orange house, George St Bathurst, oil on linen on board 85 x 102cm

Despite this feeling, the works look great and I enjoy the range displayed. We three friends are determined to do some plein air work in the  coming months. Susan lives at McMahon’s Point, so the harbour is likely to be a feature. If an art exhibition stimulates one to go out and create, then one could say its work is done.