Old idea. New blood.

This week, the Telluride region plays host to 30 nationally recognized artists, who will plant easels in alleys, down by the river, smack dab in the middle of Colorado Avenue, and hidden away in various other nooks and crannies of Mother Nature, heads covered from the Colorado sun, brushes flying, canvases exploding with color and light.

It’s time for the Sheridan Arts Foundation‘s 9th annual Telluride Plein Air, an art event celebrating outdoor painting in and around the Telluride region, Friday, June 29 – Thursday, July 5. The event is a fundraiser for the non-profit.

What’s it all about? Well, “plein air” is a concept first associated with the French Impressionists and in that context is shorthand for “very spendy, but would look great in your living room if you could afford one.”

Just kidding.

The story actually begins with Eugene Boudin, one of the more adventurous 19th-century painters, known primary for his beach scenes and seascapes of northern France, and luminous skies. When Boudin taught his young student, Claude Monet, the importance of painting a scene directly from nature in the light, in the air, just as it was, painting en plein air was born. In the stroke of Monet’s agitated brush, the dark palette of Realism (and the Barbizon School) gave way to the brighter highlights of painting directly from nature.

Monet quickly introduced friends such as Renoir, Sisley and Bazille to the core idea of the discipline: record only what is visible at given distances under specific lighting conditions. In December 1873, outdoor painting sessions and heated café discussions among young artists of the day culminated in the Societe Anonyme des Artists. The group’s first show, April 15, 1874, included an image by Monet of dawn over a foggy harbor entitled “Impression: Sunrise.” A critic wrote a satirical review, sniffing at the Monet,  and in one stroke of a venomous pen, he popularized the term “Impressionism,”  now synonymous with plein air painting.

The first important Impressionist work to be shown in America was Manet’s “Execution of the Emperor Maximilian,” banned by Paris censors and politically inflammatory. According to art critic Robert Hughes, in 1879 the image was brought to New York and Boston by an opportunistic singer named Madame Ambre who put on a show to generate publicity for her recitals.

In 1886, a popular French art dealer mounted the first professional show of Impressionist images at the American Art Association’s galleries. Thus began America’s love affair with fine European works of art. In a heartbeat, American artists began to adopt plein air techniques, and much late 19th- and early 20th-century painting stems from reactions to Impressionism’s basic tenets. Today in the U.S. alone, there are more than 500 registered Plein Air painters. One of them is Randall Sexton.

A California-based artist, Randall Sexton was among the first group of American Impressionist painters to be invited to town nine years ago for the first Telluride Plein Air. Freshman year, he won second place for an image entitled “Walking the Dog.” He also won the “Quick Draw,” for a small painting of a bicycle parked at one of the taco stands.

Sexton, now nationally known for expressive brushwork in his images of everyday scenes, started painting as a very young man. His father, an artist and crafts person who refinished furniture and made jewelry and silkscreen prints, and his high school teacher were early influences.

Sexton entered the fine arts program at the University of Connecticut as a sculptor major, but graduated with a degree in painting, working on large abstract images. His first experience working en plein air was an experiment to learn more about color and “painting things that looked like things.” Today, Randall Sexton works in a broad range of subject matter, feeling that direct work from nature (plus figure/portrait studies) informs his studio work and visa versa.

In 1995, Sexton started teaching art classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He now teaches classes at Pixar Studios and leads workshops domestically and abroad. Acknowledged by jurors and artists alike, Randall has garnered national awards for his paintings.

“Painting is an adventure. Each work is a simple sentence in an ongoing story that will take a lifetime to unfold,” he explained.

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to our chat.

The following is the schedule for Telluride Plein Air:

June 29, 2012 – Artists arrive and begin painting throughout Telluride and the region

June Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012 – 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Plein Air Quick Draw & Sale, Mountain Village (Free and open to the public.)

The 90-minute painting competition provides everyone an opportunity to view artists in action and then purchase paintings at a special price. The Quick Draw competition is open only to the Telluride Plein Air Celebration artists. The competition is judged by the Ah Haa School of Arts in the Mountain Village Courtyard, 3:45 p.m. The winner receives a cash award and has his piece featured at the 2012 Ah Haa School’s Art Auction fundraiser.

July 2nd & July 3rd, 2012 – 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Artist Choice Preview Sale – Sheridan Opera House Gallery Room  (Free and open to the public) 
Stop by the Sheridan Opera House for a sneak peak of the week’s best works – purchase a painting right on the spot.

Wednesday & Thursday, July 4th & July 5th, 2012
 Plein Air Art Sale, Sheridan Opera House Courtyard /Elks Park (Free and open to the public)

Thursday, July 5th – 8pm 
Gala Benefit Concert, Sheridan Opera House, featuring Memphis rockers, Lucero.

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