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In photos: A look at a modern plein-air painting tradition Add to ...

Plein-air painting – going outdoors with easel, paint tubes, palette and brushes to capture the fleeting effects of light on land, water, clouds – was a staple of landscape art in the 19th and early 20th centu ries. Think Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park, Claude Monet at Giverny and on the banks of the Thames, Renoir at his farm near the Mediterranean coast. But is there a contemporary plein-air tradition or at least practice? Kitty Scott thinks there is. Currently curator of modern and contemporary art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, she’s mounted three exhibitions on the phenomenon in the last five years, the newest iteration, called Pleinarism, up now at Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre and running though mid-September. As with the previous incarnations (in Iceland in 2008, Quebec in 2012), Scott has brought together works in various media by international artists or teams of artists not usually associated with en plein air. There’s also a display of research materials from a plein-air drawing residency held at the centre last summer plus a trio of mountain watercolours from the 1930s by the gallery’s namesake, purportedly the first time Phillips (1884-1963) has been so recognized since the gallery opened in 1976. While some of the work is observational, there’s also – unsurprisingly in this day and age – a conceptual cast to a few of the entries. Watercolor, for instance, a short video from 2010 by Belgian-born Francis Alys, depicts the artist taking a bucket of water from the Red Sea at Aqaba, Jordan, then dumping the contents into the Black Sea at Trabzon, Turkey.

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