There is a lot of talk about plein aire painting, but what exactly does it mean? Borrowed from the French, to paint ‘en plein aire’ literally translates to ‘open air,’ it refers to painting outside, on location, in all kinds of weather. Another way to say this, also in French, is ‘peinture sur le motif,’ or painting of the object or what the eye actually sees. Many artists paint this way, going from start to finish on location. It produces vibrant work full of light and motion. But it can be hard to paint a larger painting outdoors, not the least of the problems being securing a larger canvas from gusts of wind.
West Fraser has spent many hours painting outside in front of his subjects in all kinds of weather. Think rainy nights, or windy days on the beach, or hot, steamy, august afternoons where the light shimmers on the water and the gnats are out in force. Plein aire painting is not always comfortable, but it is always an adventure.
In the last few years West has developed a system of using a combination of sketches from life—pencil, watercolor, and oil—and photographs to create large studio paintings.
Although he calls them sketches, or studies, some of them are just as detailed as his studio paintings, and certainly don’t look like any kind of sketch I’ve ever seen.
Personally, I think these paintings represent the culmination of a career of painting, of West finally finding a balance between the rendering of an image and the spontaneity of plein aire.
The results of en plein aire are as I said before vibrant, full of motion, and light filled. But as you can see, the results of West’s studio work are also vibrant, full of motion, and light filled. West takes his queues from nature, but creates his masterpiece from a lifetime of observation and the skill developed during a lifetime of painting.
For more information on available paintings, please go to www.helenafoxfineart.com and don’t forget to sign up for the gallery newsletter. ‘Painting the Southern Coast:The Art of West Fraser’ USC Press hits bookstores in July. Order your copy today!