Clive Pates curated an exhibit of landscape painters for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum in Biloxi, Mississippi, two years ago (“The Will to Endure – Six Contemporary Landscape Painters”). He wrote an introduction for the exhibit in which he points out the role of plein air painting in breaking down the conventions of 19th Century academic painting and eventually leading to abstract and non-objective art.
“The uniqueness of the Plein-Air painting is its reliance on direct perception. … Experimentation and the need to break down older structures of meaning extended boundary lines in terms of the way we understand painting. There were created rich new techniques and possibilities for using paint that could only have evolved with an understanding of purely abstract forms of painting developed through this conscious act of looking.”
He goes on to say that we seem to be at a similar crossroads today, with imposed meaning again becoming the gatekeeper in the art world, and the plein air painter in a position to stand for the value of direct perception.
“Contemporary painting is often prescriptive and relies on a very developed art community structure for success or failure, so once again we can see a new academia reigning over the way we perceive art. There is a need for re-appraisal within contemporary art; a re-evaluation of traditional realism is also long overdue. Purely perceptual painting is now placed outside of the newly formed arts academy structures, the low art counterpoint to the glorious and triumphant modernist experiment. The landscape painter has the potential to re-integrate the last century of experimentation into the landscape. The landscape can now be seen in its purist form of the abstract mark, perceived and invested with meaning.”