Photo: Steve Rhoades

Dana Collins

Notes on the Plein Air Work

“Plein air” simply means open air, which is what I do in my landscapes.  I work from direct observation of the sites, never from photographs.  (I would love to work from photographs, and avoid the bugs, the boat bouncing, the wind, etc.  But the color in photos is never right, and a photo only gives you one moment…)

Many of these were done from my small rowboat on the upper Mississippi River in Wisconsin. When I first began working on the river, years ago, doing anything like “landscape” was very unfashionable, and I worked on this series just for myself. But there was something compelling about the experience of being on the water, so I kept returning to it. Eventually I took a deep breath and started exhibiting these works.

At first it was in interest in the effects of light on color, and the interaction of shapes and their reflections that motivated me.  As the sites became more familiar, they came to have personal meaning as well.  Increasingly, the silence of these places, which are nevertheless so full of movement, has drawn me to them.  They have come to be full of memories, so the drawings and paintings are a result of this continual layering of form and memory, always changing.

Almost always, more than one day is needed to complete a painting, so returning to the same place, when the weather conditions, wind, shadows and time of day are similar is always a challenge.  Usually I take several unfinished works out with me each morning, hoping for the best, and some fresh paper or canvas, just in case.

I always find something new, and interesting, on the water. It is more than a matter of form – the composition, the light, movement, all that.  What draws me is something more still and  - for want of better words – spiritual, profound.  If I could put it into words better, I would be a poet, and not just trying to listen and paint. 

Below is a satellite map of the Misssissippi River in Cassville, WI, showing some of my working locations. The labeled names appear in some of my painting titles.

Map: Chad Brokaw