By Sarah Colson
The Northeast Tennessee Plein Air Painters will soon give viewers the chance to experience the beauty of the outdoors from the comfort of the Nelson Fine Art Center. The center, located at 324 E. Main St. in Johnson City, will host “Catching the Light,” an exhibit featuring local artists from the Northeast Tennessee Plein Air Painters. The show opens Friday at 7 p.m. and will run through Aug. 27.
Plein Air painter Renee Pitts said Plein Air originated with the impressionist painters in France. “It has taken a resurgence and revival in America and really all over the world as people begin to get outdoors and want to be more abstract in their painting,” she said. “It’s going outside and it’s about capturing the moment, the essence of something, the beauty of something. You set up and you just paint what you see.”
Pitts, who taught art for years in area high schools and who still goes into hospitals to teach about the healing powers of art, was working on a piece for the show last week. She was painting Turk’s Cap Lilies.
“You can really only paint something a good two hours,” Pitts said. “This is bigger and instead of painting all day on it, what I do is paint the same two hours every day. You get the same light effect. But then you’re battling the flowers falling. When I started a couple of days ago, it was full so I just needed to go back and put a little bit of light on it.”
Pitts lives on 10 acres of land in Bluff City. While she said her property is not that big, she and her husband are surrounded by several century-old farms.
“I hope they’ll never sell,” she said. “I have a wealth of things to paint here.”
Part of that wealth is what she calls “her” mountain, a range that pops out over the hills surrounding her 10 acres, one that she paints often and said is constantly changing with the seasons.
“That mountain right there is my mountain,” Pitts said. “It’s like Georgia O’Keeffe said; God gave her Pedernal (a distinctive, flat-topped range in New Mexico). She said that if she painted it enough, God would give it to her. That’s how I feel about that mountain. I’ve called her ‘She Who Waits’ because every day I see her differently. … Today she’s real muted but sometimes she is just like you could touch her.”
Along with the natural beauty, Pitts said her love of painting stems also from her love of relating to other artists.
“We’re just putting our work together and showing what we do,” Pitts said of the upcoming show, “and we’re really excited about that. It takes a long time to get going and you want to share what you’ve done with other people. It’s really about that. It’s about the beauty of getting outdoors. I’ve been sitting here and it’s been so interesting because how often do you take the time just to sit?
“It’s really good camaraderie. We don’t talk a whole lot; we find our spot, we start painting, we eat lunch together. I’m painting this and this is my view, but if I had my friends here and they were all painting it, it would be a totally different interpretation, different colors, and sometimes even medium. It’s just so much fun.”
Other artists featured in “Catching the Light” are: Monique Carr, Brenda Bundrant, Don Gotterbarn, Leslie Davis, Sheryl Daniels, John Youssi, Donna Bird, Judy Fitzgerald, Linda Loffmin, Carol Dixon, and Mary Nees.
Pitts said supporting local artists is worth what might seem expensive to those who don’t understand the beauty of owning original, local art.
“We live in an area that is so full of beauty and we’re beginning to get all these artists interested in settling here and interested in painting,” she said. “There are so many good artists here. A lot of people complain about original art being expensive or they go somewhere else to buy art. But it’s here. If you consider all that goes into it—all the time, effort, supplies—it’s really not that expensive. You’re bringing in all the fields, all the butterflies, you’re bringing in all that artist has experienced.”