As an art teacher, I have taught en plein air painting many, many times. What captures me the most with this style of painting is the focus on light and color, my two favorites aspects of art. McIntosh describes this style of painting in such a way that words like mindfulness, Zen, and meditation come to mind. McIntosh states, ”I think when I am out on location I am focused entirely on what I am doing right there and then. My phone isn’t nearby, there isn’t a computer, there’s no social media to be looking at. It’s just a really great way to escape the world, especially when we’ve got bad news on TV and all that. Cause when I’m there I’ve got that set amount of time to capture the light.“ Her current virtual exhibition at the Springer Cultural Center in Champaign, “The Here and Now”, is an amazing series that captures moments in time, often symbolic of her current surroundings.
En Plein Air, a style pioneered by the Impressionists (think Monet, Degas, Renoir), is a style of painting that requires the artist to paint outside in order to capture a moment in time through color and light. Usually this type of painting has to be completed within a two – three hour time frame in order to capture the correct time of day. Sometimes the artist will return to the same location the next day or two, at the same time, in order to fully complete the work. McIntosh gravitates towards finishing a piece within one sitting, and her pieces are on the smaller side due to the time frame.
One of her paintings that really struck me is one of a barn with a skeleton frame, barely staying in tact. McIntosh emphasizes the importance of asking, what story do I want to tell through my painting? For over wenty years McIntosh looked at this barn from her backyard. She watched it change over the years and one day she was warned that it may not remain there for much longer. So she decided to paint the barn she talked about painting for years, and seven days later the barn burned down! She keeps in mind that we tend to take our landmarks for granted and assume they will be there forever, “if we’re not quick to capture something it may not be around a week later.” This seem apropos for our current reality, since our only constant is change. At a time when so many are experiencing loss or new ways of living, it seems a loving reminder to value and perhaps artistically preserve what we have today.
Photo of Melinda McIntosh's Meadowbrook Barn. Photo from the Springer Cultural Center website.
Her show not only highlights en plein air paintings, but also her still life artworks. In her artist talk, she highlights a series of oil can paintings, and again the execution of light, and color, as well as texture, is exquisite. The reflections on the cans with the cast shadows truly bring them to life and make me want to experience the paintings through tactile means as well. She focuses on one as her personal favorite which is a still life comprised of two oil cans with a pink background. McIntosh explains the joy of creating reflections in this work, the relationship between the background colors (she used pink construction paper for her still life display) and the metal colors, and the juxtaposition between the intense pink and the traditional masculine objects. She sources her cans from estate sales, and promises us she has many more cans that may show up in future works! I look forward to seeing what may come.