By Gussie Fauntleroy
Standing at a child-sized easel on the kindergarten playground one day, 6-year-old Margi Lucena had mixed some tempera paints when her teacher asked what color she was using. With calm confidence the little girl replied, “It’s magenta.”
Lucena no doubt absorbed an early understanding of art from watching her father, who always had an easel set up in the family’s Southern California home. Yet as her vibrant landscapes make clear, the 55-year-old painter draws on her own deep passion for color and light. And in switching a few years ago from oils to pastels, she discovered her perfect medium. Pastel’s immediacy and pure, rich hues are ideal for her style and aesthetic, she notes. “I like to paint fast, and pastel really lends itself to that.”
After living in her husband’s native Hawaii and elsewhere, Lucena now is at home in Socorro, in south-central New Mexico. Not far away are the scenes she loves to paint: arroyos, mountains, mesas, desert vegetation, and the ever-changing Rio Grande. Wherever she goes, she employs an essential lesson from her father: how to observe. “That’s the biggest thing,” she asserts. “If you can’t see it and really feel it, it will be hard to convey it.”
Selby Fleetwood Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Curious Crow Studio and Gallery, Socorro, NM; Anna Karin Gallery, Truchas, NM; Cobalt Fine Arts, Tubac, AZ; Wild Holly Gallery, Carefree, AZ; www.margilucena.com.
It’s clear how certain elements in Betty Carr’s life converged in her path as a painter: a lifelong passion for art and for the outdoors, a fascination with nature’s patterns, and years spent in a variety of landscapes—the California coast, the Rocky Mountains, and the desert Southwest. Other key components include gallery representation since the fourth grade and decades of teaching art.
What may not be immediately evident is how years of creating non-representational sculpture also affects her painting en plein air. “It taught me how to think dimensionally on a flat surface, and also how to observe the world in terms of cascading shadows and light traipsing along the edges of things,” reflects Carr, who switched to painting some years ago. “Instead of seeing the thing,” she adds, “you’re seeing the thing in light.”
Carr’s light-filled homebase these days is Cottonwood, near Sedona, AZ, where the artist lives with her husband, painter Howard Carr. Married for 35 years, the couple travels and paints throughout the West for three to four months each year in an RV specially equipped for painting. It’s all part of what Carr happily calls her “long life of art.”
Willow Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Mountain Trails Gallery, Sedona, AZ, and Jackson, WY; Austin Galleries, Austin, TX; Judith Hale Gallery, Los Olivos, CA; Lee Youngman Galleries, Calistoga, CA; Button Gallery, Douglas, MI; www.bettycarrfineart.com
Group show, Mountain Trails Gallery, Sedona, AZ, June 1-30.
Sedona Plein Air Festival, Sedona Art Center, Sedona, AZ, October 23-30.
D. LaRue Mahlke
Texas painter D. LaRue Mahlke drove to a spot near her home north of Austin one day and took out her pastels to paint a stream in the sunshine. Then she turned around. She breathed an “ah!” and set up her easel in that direction instead. The scene, a grassy river bottom and pecan trees in winter colors, had the serene, intimate feeling for which her richly hued work is known.
As a child, Mahlke often drew outdoors. Through high school and into her 20s (while studying fine art in Corpus Christi, TX) she painted portraits. Then about ten years ago she returned to landscapes. These days the 53-year-old artist is especially drawn to certain regions in her home state: gently rolling prairies and farmland east of Austin; the oak trees and rock outcroppings of the Hill Country; and West Texas, with its subtleties of color and form.
For Mahlke, working in the studio hones her sense of design and adds thoughtfulness to her paintings, while painting on location engages all her senses, infusing the experience with freshness, gratitude, and joy. “Painting on location is really where you connect,” she reflects. “I get recharged and back to my roots. It’s a renewal. It’s my anchor.”
InSight Gallery, Fredericksburg, TX; Bingham Gallery, Mt. Carmel, UT; www.dlaruemahlke.com.
Maynard Dixon Country Invitational, Mt. Carmel, UT, August 27-29.
Here’s a paradox Joshua Been has discovered in his plein-air work: Zooming in on a small fragment of an immense mountain scene can convey a sense of the landscape’s spectacular scale. “I make little poetic statements, like maybe a crack in the rock with a little fissure garden growing in it,” Been explains, speaking from his home in Salida, CO.
Raised outside Denver, Been has been active in mountain sports all his life. His indoor activity of choice was always drawing, which led to an art degree (in drawing and sculpting) from Fort Lewis College in Durango, which in turn led to jobs in character animation for the entertainment industry. While in Los Angeles, Been took classes at the California Art Institute and discovered a love of painting. Invited one day to set up his easel on the beach, he was instantly hooked on painting outdoors—which soon took him back to his home state.
The 36-year-old artist may hike miles into the mountains carrying 80 pounds of backpacking and painting gear. But, he insists with characteristic enthusiasm, “It’s so worth it! There’s no substitute for the way the human eye perceives a scene. A camera just can’t compete with being there.”
Fine Art Gallery, Breckenridge, CO; Virtuosity Gallery, Salida, CO; Windrush, Sedona, AZ; Rice Gallery of Fine Art, Leawood, KS; www.joshuabeen.com.
Telluride Plein Air, Telluride, CO, June 28-July 4.
Rocky Mountain Plein Air Painters National Show, Oh-Be-Joyful Gallery, Crested Butte, CO, July 16-18.
Plein Air Rockies, Cultural Arts Council Fine Art Galleries, Estes Park, CO, August 28-October 3.Plein Air on the Rim, South Rim of the Grand Canyon, AZ, September 18-November 28.
Sedona Plein Air Festival, Sedona Art Center, Sedona, AZ, October 23-30.
For anyone who thinks familiarity breeds complacency, Don Brackett sets the story straight. After more than 40 years of painting on location in northern New Mexico, he says the experience—and the landscape—remains fresh in his eyes and his art.
The 77-year-old painter grew up in Albuquerque and earned a fine art degree from the University of New Mexico. His early work was in watercolor, a medium he shared with his wife and lifelong painting partner, P.J. Garoutte. In 1980 they both switched to oils, finding, as Brackett puts it, “a whole new world.” That world has been rewarding: His widely collected and exhibited art has received numerous national and regional awards, including first place (a $10,000 cash prize) at Best of the Sangre de Cristos.
For more than 20 years, Brackett and Garoutte have lived near Taos, roaming the mountain and mesa roads in their tall-top painting van. Sometimes Brackett completes multiple plein-air paintings in the same spot. “I just point the easel around in a different direction,” he smiles. And if nature’s composition requires some adjustment, the artist draws on a well-earned fluency in the language of landforms and light. Of the landscape he loves to paint: “After a while it just gets in your blood.”
Meyer Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; Parsons Gallery of the West, Taos, NM; Concetta D Gallery, Albuquerque, NM.
Taos Living Legends show, Parsons Gallery of the West, September-November.
It’s a statement that might surprise many plein-air painters, but Santa Fe artist Sarah Bienvenu delivers it with characteristic enthusiasm and warmth: “I feel like watercolor is the perfect medium for plein air.”
Even in a high-desert climate where paint dries extremely fast, Bienvenu has learned to pace the rhythm of her work to the conditions of any given day. Plus, her painting pack is lighter than it would be with oils. Above all, she explains, there’s an immediacy with watercolor that has kept her delightedly using it in New Mexico for 30 years.
That’s the theme of a just-released book on Bienvenu’s art titled Taking Time: Thirty Years of Painting New Mexico. It highlights the continuity of her vision—landscapes abstracted into engaging colors, relationships, cadences, and forms—as well as the ways her art has changed. In recent years the 54-year-old artist has translated small plein-air paintings into studio works as large as 32 by 44 inches. At the same time she has moved toward greater detail in composition, play of light, and subtlety of color within forms. “I get pretty excited about patterns, relationships, and things that contradict each other,” she relates. “It’s always intriguing when I’m out painting. I’m constantly wanting to explore these things.”
Winterowd Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; The Edmund Craig Gallery, Fort Worth, TX; Joseph Gierek Fine Art, Tulsa, OK.
Solo show and book release, Winterowd Fine Art, June 11-24.
Featured in June 2010