Simon Lee Gallery, London, is pleased to present En Plein Air, bringing together works by artists who seek to reinterpret the artistic tradition of painting outdoors for a contemporary audience. The plein air approach has been prevalent since the mid-19th century, although it gained traction in the 1860s as a practice essential to the development of the Impressionist movement. While artists had long painted from observation to create preparatory sketches or studies, during this period the plein air method led to a naturalistic style that threw out the academic rulebook in the pursuit of formal and compositional spontaneity. The artists included in En Plein Air are united by a desire to refresh the audience’s interpretation of outdoor painting, whether via landscapes or portraits, photography or painting, figuration or abstraction, and in this way, the exhibition explores scenes of the outdoors in relation to contemporary studio practice.
As exemplified by the diverse practice of these artists, the outdoors unearths a vast range of reactions and emotions, delivering countless possibilities, realities and perspectives. Whereas Dexter Dalwood, Ryan Mrozowski and Heimo Zobernig play with colour, line and pigment to eternalise and romanticise the wind-swept and sun-soaked disorientation of a long, hot day, João Penalva and Angela Bulloch look upwards, to the evening and night sky respectively, highlighting the mysterious unknown of the expansive cosmos, or the burnt orange of a setting sun.
For James Rosenquist and Zobernig, landscape painting remains inextricably entrenched within the great Impressionist tradition. Zobernig, like Bernard Frize, forgoes detailed narrative in favour of dramatic and gestural swathes of paint, preferring to capture the spirit, rather than a perfect picture of the outdoors. Rosenquist favours a more representational approach, taking Claude Monet’s iconic garden as his starting point, while Zobernig uses Edouard Manet’s seminal Déjeuneur sur l’Herbe as the basis for his most recent, and highly abstracted, paintings.
Elsewhere, Holly Coulis presents the viewer with an arrangement of bucolic props at a picnic scene: plump citrus fruit in hues of yellow and orange, a full carafe, and a liquor-filled glass. Rather than fill in the outdoor landscape, Coulis animates the scene with buoyant summer tones. With photography as her chosen medium, Josephine Pryde achieves a similar effect, juxtaposing close, atmospheric detail – muddied footprints and rings of ice, with the comparatively distant photograph of frosted shrubs, and bare trees. Both Coulis and Pryde, as well as Paulina Olowska and Justin John Greene, remind us that being outdoors can be a highly personal and intimate experience; it can serve as time for meditation or quiet contemplation.