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Painting the natural world en plein air

Gallery owner Robin Knowlton hosts a new exhibition introducing Lodi to three reknowned landscape artists who prefer to find their creative spark outside

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Posted: Friday, January 3, 2014 1:58 pm

For the uninitiated, hauling a canvas, paints, brushes and easel out to a meadow seems like far too much work for a landscape painting. Couldn’t you just take a few photographs and reference them from the comfort of your studio?

But for artists who prefer to work in the elements, there’s no replacement for the sounds of birdsong, the gentle breeze and the scents of nature to influence their work. It’s known as plein air painting, and its followers swear by the quality of light and feeling they can infuse into their pieces.

Three plein air artists are showcasing their work at Knowlton Gallery this winter. It’s the first show of the year for the Lodi art gallery run by Robin Knowlton.

Lodi’s largest fine arts gallery is on the second floor of the Woolworth Place on School Street in Downtown. The main exhibition gallery holds the current show, plus a selection of the handcrafted jewelry Knowlton curates from across the country. Across the hall is an annex space for artist workshops, demonstrations and more display space for additional artwork.

“We are a destination gallery, so I have a large collection. I don’t want anyone to drive for two hours to see only 20 paintings,” said Knowlton.

Knowlton opened the gallery when her son, now 24, was in high school. She chose Lodi because she lived here and didn’t want to drag her family farther afield.

“I knew if I had high quality work, people would find me,” she said.

Knowlton maintains a consistent stable of artists, but occasionally she adds in one or two new faces to fill out a group show. It’s generally an artist whose work she has followed for some time. She gauges the public’s reaction to the new work and how it fits in with the other paintings as a whole.

With Andy Evenson, it was a rare combination of finding an artist whose career is on the upswing, is producing high quality work and has paintings priced affordably. Evenson, of Minnesota, is a signature member of the Plein-Air Painters of America.

Carolyn Hesse-Low and Jim McVicker both live in California, but at opposite ends of the state. Knowlton was introduced to their work at the California Art Club Gold Medal Show.

These are all nationally known artists, but they’ve each been in only one show at the gallery. Knowlton wanted collectors and the public to see a larger body of their work.

For this show, Knowlton requested a selection of work that each artist felt was representative of his or her style. There are a few still lifes and studio work, but a large portion is landscape art created on-site, right in the atmosphere the painting aims to capture.

Each artist submitted 10 pieces. This was a nervous moment for Knowlton, until she saw all the work in one place.

“I hoped there would be some harmonious relationship, so when you walk in the gallery, they hang well together,” she said.

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