Portfolio: Plein-Air Painting | Sarah Bienvenu

On Location: Six artists hooked on painting outdoors

By Gussie Fauntleroy

Sarah Bienvenu, Cerrillos in March, watercolor, 28 x 30.

Sarah Bienvenu, Cerrillos in March, watercolor, 28 x 30.

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.

Featured in the “On Location” portfolio in June 2010