Island Life: Plein Air Plus Exhibit Brings Summer Back at LBIF

By PAT JOHNSON | Sep 26, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson ‘Love of Summer’ by artist John Slivjak (left) won the Plein Air Plus first prize from juror Valerie Craig (right).

Fortunately for all, the “Island Life: Plein Air Plus” exhibit at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences in Loveladies continues through Oct. 21 so everyone can get there and enjoy it. One hundred thirty paintings of LBI done over the summer months are there to beguile us with summer memories and reflections of what a beautiful place we are all lucky to share, if just for a day, a week or a lifetime.

Juror Valerie Craig, a fine artist and award-winning plein air painter, had the enjoyable task of choosing 35 artists from the 70 applications she received this spring. The 35 chosen artists then painted the LBI environs. They found familiar subjects in Barnegat Light and Viking Village, the salt marshes and crowded beaches, but also choose some unusual places to paint.

On Sunday, Craig introduced the exhibit, gave out the awards and explained her choices.

“This event had a special category that artists could choose to participate in – ‘Plein air plus,’ where artists gather sketches and color notes and then back in their studio develop a larger painting, designing or editing out all the infinite details that grab our attention. When you are painting outside, you have to choose what to enhance, to describe what drew you to a scene and then edit using your artistic license. Outside you have to contend with the changing light, bugs, traffic, people and a lot of sun.

“Back in the studio you can stop, have a cup of coffee, reflect and step away” from the easel.

John Slivjak’s large painting “Love of Summer” won the Plein Air Plus prize for his depiction of people enjoying the surf. Slivjak also exhibited his book of studies and notes that he used to develop the painting.

“This is a wonderful design,” said Craig. “The focal point is the child in the orange suit throwing her arms up with such energy. The color dominance is the blue-violet of the sea. There are quiet passages in the midst of all the bathers. His color goes from cool to warm and dark to light. It’s an entertaining painting, and the quality of painting makes it a beautiful painting.”

Slivjak said he had worked hard on getting the mood right: “I did lots of scraping out and repainting.”

There were three honorable mention prizes and first, second and third prizes for paintings largely created on location.

First place in Plein Air went to Heather-Lynn Gibson for her “Air Lobster,” a realistic rendering of the inflatable toys outside the Acme Market in Beach Haven Park.

“It’s very playful and really must have been a challenge to paint,” said Craig. “To find a painting in an Acme parking lot is very creative.

“The first thing I look at in a painting is the shape, and the second is what it is,” she continued. “Every area of this painting is drawn so well, your eye goes to the complementary colors – the green shovels against the red-orange lobster – and there are little shapes against big shapes, and diagonals give the painting lots of energy, plus the way the light hits the subject. It’s a well done and fun painting.”

“I like to paint piles of stuff,” said Gibson. “I had painted a stack of inner tubes when I visited Ocean City, and it was a successful painting. People got my sense of humor. So I wondered if people on LBI would get it, and they did.” Gibson said the people at the Acme were accommodating, allowing him to move the bucket of green shovels over to the inflatables. “I said I needed it for my composition, and they were fine with that.”

Painter Neil Hughes won the second plein air prize for his “Causeway Nocturne,” an exceptional tour de force, painted as it was in the dark under a Causeway bridge. “This painting has beautiful shapes,” said Craig. “Our eyes go to the area of most contrast, and that’s here, where the bright streetlights pierce the darkness. Although it’s hard to see, his black has a lot of violet in it, and that is a complement of the yellow lights. Here, too, in the lights on the navigational lights on bridge, red and green are complementary colors.”

Craig noted the streetlights were painted with texture while the large, dark areas of the bridge were painted smoothly. “All the elements of good design come together in this painting. Well done, Neil!” she said.

Third place went to a small painting, “Boat on Bay” by Crista Pisano. “This is an elegant painting, a little jewel,” said Craig. “This is called a high key painting. The colors of the early morning, her color choices of blue gray and touches of lemon yellow and her control of values give a sense of mood. It’s subtle and warm, and the undertones make it vibrate.”

Another small painting, “A View of LBI” by Al Barker, won an honorable mention. “His drawing and his placement of tiny notes of color and details keeps you interested,” said the juror. “So delicate and so beautiful,” she said. Barker had painted a long view across the bay and meadows to a string of houses and a water tower.

The second honorable mention went to Beth Bathe for “Barnegat Light Houses.” Bathe has an economy of paint and color, explained Craig, making her a tonal painter. “The interest is in her diagonals, her calligraphy and almost watercolor washes. She exercises a lot of restraint.”

The third honorable mention went to a local painter who has been painting the beaches of Surf City since 1995. John Meehan first came to LBI when Jane Law had her studio and gallery, and Meehan asked her if she thought there would be a market for paintings of beachgoers. She said she thought so, and he painted and brought them in for sale. Meehan now is represented by the m.t. burton gallery in Surf City. 

“I’m not a local, though; I’m from Malvern, Pa. I made regular day trips when I could get the weather, my work and family to cooperate,” said Meehan. “I used to paint every Monday at the Ninth Street beach in Surf City for a couple of years. I call it ‘shotgun’ painting, where I paint black and white in acrylics and then add the color. Once I figure out the sky and sand color ,I can paint it all across – you only have 2½ hours before the light changes. But it’s beautiful light, and when I can get down here to paint I’m a happy camper.”

Meehan’s “Building Ambition” of a youngster and his sand pail on a crowded beach caught Craig’s praise. “The composition and design, the brush work and edges, it reads far across the room,” she said. “When I squint, I see the shapes all hang together. I’ve been a painter for 30 years, and I know how hard it is to edit out and change what is right before you. He has a beautiful abstract design in his positive and negative shapes. His use of light is perfect – we can tell it’s a hot, hazy midday.”

So these were the prizewinners.  but there are many, many beautiful and accomplished paintings on display. Craig noted this is only the third year for the Plein Air Plus competition and exhibit, but it’s the strongest she has seen. Don’t miss it.

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