The Plein Air Scene

by Sarah Beserra


Carmel Plein Air Festival


Plein air painter Mary Lou Correia of Martinez, CA reports to us about her experience at the Carmel Plein Air Painting Competition Festival held in May, 1999.

This is the sixth year of the Carmel Plein Air Festival which is coordinated by the Carmel Gallery Alliance. Artists represented by Carmel galleries and from all over the country participate annually. The event is open to all. Requirements include affiliation with a Carmel gallery or one of the associations - Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of America or the California Art Club. There were over 60 painters participating.

At painting sites, I met artists from Oregon, Washington and Canada. I attended this year because I know several local painters and I am familiar with the Monterey Peninsula, having taught high school there in the late 70's.

The format of the competition and auction is as follows: paintings for the event could be painted either Thursday or Friday - the canvasses were signed and stamped by the Mayor at 8:00am, painted during the day, then framed wet and turned in by 7pm the same evening. Paintings could be completed during the week but not turned in for competition. Two paintings per artist were displayed alphabetically during the weekend at the Pitzer Gallery in Carmel. Prizes amounting to more than $4,000 were awarded, and a silent auction took place Sunday.

I recognized many San Francisco artists as well as PAPA members: Lynn Gertenbach, Brian Blood, Ralph Oberg, Michael Obermeyer, Camille Przewodek and Matt Smith, among others. Those most familiar with the event and the area had an obvious advantage.

I had gone down to Monterey on Tuesday to scout my painting sites. I stayed at a small studio at the invitation of a generous friend. Before arriving, I spent much time considering canvas sizes and easy-to-mount frames. I knew from the advice of others to stamp a variety of sizes each day and that clip-in mount frames would be easier to handle rather than my hand made screw-in moldings. What I hadn't entirely counted on were the extreme weather conditions. Wednesday, out on the bluffs in my rainy weather gear, under a tree, in the mist, I was invited in by a nice couple for hot tea and to use their bathroom. The people in the area are friendly and welcoming to painters. We had mostly clear but extremely windy conditions. Thursday, in a riverbed hunkered down in the dunes, I painted comfortably while I watched one of the artists out by the water painting at two easels at one time, intermittently having conversations on a cell phone. I shared a quiet lunch with a kindred soul wondering what it was all about. (left: Mary Lou Correia, Carmel Valley Mustard, 16 x 20 inches)

Framing wasn't as easy. I had painted my 16" x 20" canvas upside down according to my prearranged eye screws, and re-drilling a wet painting wasn't easy. 1 watched others run into the gallery at 7:45pm to mount their paintings after holding out for the best of the late light. Michael Obermeyer won first prize for a wonderful narrative overview of Monterey Bay.

I think it was a worthwhile experience. But I am happier about my painting when I can savor the sense of a place and let the painting rest on my wall where I can have a second fresh look and edit one more time.


Featured Artist: Judy Molyneaux

Plein air painter, arts organizer and fund raiser for numerous worthy causes, Judy Molyneaux resides in Bolinas, CA. Her vivid and dynamic paintings are reminiscent of Van Gogh in Provence. Her work resides in many public and private collections. She is a member of the "Outsiders".

When I was three my older sister put on a circus. I was to be a duck. That seemed easy enough. You just have to squat and waddle on the grass. But something happened at that moment. It's hard to describe, but essentially the green of the grass shot through my soul, riveting me to the earth. To break the spell of something so "terrifyingly" beautiful, I immediately rose up. Shaking my head, I twirled about and looked up into the sky. The earth and sky began their crazy dance - this same dance that's been haunting me ever since.

My early years growing up in Wisconsin were divided between a college town and a farm on a lake. My twin sister and I were often left to drift in a row boat/play pen. I like to think that some of my fascination with brilliant light and pulsating movement stems from this early experience. Not long after, we moved East following the rise of my father's teaching career, his restless discontent and underlying yearning to return to "The Farm" of my childhood. My painting career was stimulated as much by my grandfather's offer to pay me the handsome sum of a nickel for a drawing of his beloved diamond-paned front door, as it was by the many days and nights working the farm, planting rows of tomatoes in the dusk, pitching hay in the searing heat, racing the tractor back to the barn just ahead of thunderstorms. (right: Judy Molyneaux, Daybreak, 1994, oil, 30 x 30 inches)

My art "education" began with sneaking into my older sister's bedroom to check out her extensive collection of art reproductions. What amazing beauty I found there.

Years later on my way to becoming an English teacher, essentially following in my parents' footsteps, I found myself painting - painting old men in the style of Rembrandt, painting scenes of the Maine Coast during summer vacations, mixing sand with pigment between crazy necking sessions with one great love-of-my-life after another.

A gallery owner from a small town near Chicago (by this time I was enrolled in a college in the heart of Michigan) saw my work and asked me if I wanted to show in his gallery. After the opening, my mother rescued me from an academic life by asking me if I wanted to go to a proper art school. Somewhere in her Victorian soul, this woman who wouldn't allow me to be a dancer, was finally giving in to my obsession with paint and brush and letting go of her fear of Bohemian life.

The "proper" art school was the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where I earned both a BFA and an MFA and the shaky right to teach other young aspirants the rudiments of my chosen profession. I taught for just one year and a summer in a small liberal arts college in Georgia, and then made my break for the big city - my wild beatnik life - though by now beat had shifted to hippy, and San Francisco was the city of dreams. Forever painting, I delved deep into the human psyche. It wasn't until I moved to Bolinas and was struck dumb by the beauty of the light and the movement of the fog that I began to paint the earth again.

I met Jerry Turner in 1986 when I put on a blockbuster show I entitled "The Bay Area Seen". Jerry's slides won my heart, and he in turn introduced me to Terry St. John, Louis and Lundy Siegriest, Pam Glover - the list goes on. Jerry's fresh paintings were an inspiration to me, and not long after I went out rambling with him and tried his thing - plein air painting. I've been hooked ever since. Not that I paint this way all the time, but I do it enough to feel that it is a major part of my artistic life. I love to paint. To paint is to dream. To dream is to be a rock, a tree, the wide sea and beyond.

Judy's work can be seen at Marin/Scapes at the Escalle Winery in Larkspur and the Bolinas Gallery in July, 1999.

© Sarah Beserra, 1999

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Sarah Beserra is Editor and Publisher of The Plein Air Scene - a monthly newsletter on plein air painting in Northern California. You may contact her at or (707) 645-7361

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