Impacting Others With Art: My Story
Eric Rhoads, PleinAir Magazine & Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine
We have all had moments -- perhaps we can count them on one hand -- that had an impact on the rest of our lives. Most of those moments in my life were centered around art, to which I was exposed at an early age, thanks to my mother. It was she who put a brush in my hand and guided me. It was she who painted my portrait when I was 11, resulting in my love for portraiture. Yet, like many young children exposed to art, I was drawn away by various distractions, and it was not until I turned 40 that my wife recognized this suppressed desire. It was her nudge, her buying me art lessons and offering encouraging words over paintings that were not very good, that made me fall in love with art all over again.
A Life-Changing Moment
The lessons my wife purchased for me resulted in my finding a mentor, who gave me five years of his life until his passing. Because he took me to the next step, because he opened my eyes and gave me an appreciation of what was good, I am today a publisher of art magazines I can be proud of. It is because of my mentor that I share a passion for art with editors Steve Doherty and Peter Trippi, who have devoted their lives to fine art.
Passion Vs. Profit
Perhaps I'm naive, but I believe people in the art world can tell the difference between those who publish for profit alone and those who publish to further their passion. Of course, profit is required for a successful business, enabling us to carry the standard for forms of art the world has been led to believe are no longer valid. But art is also our passion, and we believe in our hearts that there is a movement of discovery afoot. When I started my first art magazine, almost ten years ago, realistic art in all forms, from loose to tight, was almost completely out of vogue. Today, things are moving in our direction. Not because of our leadership, but perhaps we are in the right place at the right time.
Seeing Life Through the Eyes of an Artist Peter, Steve, and I share a common goal. We want to expose more people to the art we love and help them see the difference between quality and kitsch. We know that continual exposure to "the good stuff" makes the eye more discerning. It is our desire to inspire people to love art, to learn art, to collect art, and to create art. Frankly, I want to do for others what was done for me, because that exposure to art changed my life forever. I feel blessed that I can drive along a road and marvel at the colors of the sky, the warm orange light on the side of a brick building, or the purple grays of a distant mist. Every glance at everyday life makes me want to do a painting. My friends who don't paint just think I'm strange when I point out the way the light hits the trees.
Several years ago I expressed the desire to create an event unlike any other in the art world. I wanted to create a convention for artists that offered not just education, but a chance to enhance relationships, build friendships, and gather together more artists than have ever assembled before. Most told me I was nuts, and that my dreams would never be realized. Yet I have felt so strongly about this that I've been persistent. What if we could create a nationwide movement? Imagine the impact we could have if we made 500 or 1,000 painters better by exposing them to dozens of the greatest painters on earth. What if those artists returned to their hometowns and acted as missionaries to bring more art into their communities? What if we could deepen their bonds with other painters as they spent a few days together, working to improve their own skills and the skills of those around them?
A Special Experiment
Last June I experimented, in a small way, with the concept I had envisioned. I invited some friends to paint with me in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. Those invitations snowballed into others, and we ended up with 88 painters, together for a week. Some were top professionals, others amateurs who had the same passion but lacked the skills. I was concerned that the pros would not want to hang with the amateurs, but I was wrong. The spirit among the group surprised me. Everyone was embraced; everyone made new friendships. When the week ended, we all shed a tear, as though we were saying goodbye to our best friends after being in camp together all summer. Though it's hard to describe, it was magical. We named the group the Adirondack Mountain School Painters, and in that week we generated close to 800 paintings of the Adirondacks.
The Time Has Come
A little bit of encouragement goes a long way. During that week, while painting in a field with all the other painters together, I said to Steve that it's time to take this to the next level and create the giant event I had envisioned. We have been working on it every day since last June, and we're calling it the Plein Air Convention.
The Impact of Empowered Painters
As of this moment, close to two thirds of the seats are already sold. We're well over the 400 mark, and the maximum we can accommodate this year is 750. Frankly, if we stop where we are, we will have a phenomenal event. But with big dreams come big goals. If we can touch the lives of 750 painters, send them back to their communities empowered with new knowledge, new marketing skills, renewed passion and commitment, we can change the world of art. Andy Warhol once said that 1,000 people painting traditionally again would end the modern art movement. I'm saying that 750 people will result in a major boost for impressionism, realism, and plein air painting.
You can be a part of something bigger than your own personal accomplishment. You can be a part of a catalyst for change, starting with one moment in time. Not only do we think painters will look back on the photos from this event as we look back at photos of the Impressionists gathering in the cafes of Paris, you could be a part of the first and largest gathering of artists of this magnitude.
I know you're busy. You have lives, painting to do, workshops to conduct, and families to care for. I respect that. Yet I'd like to ask that you seriously consider being a part of this monumental moment in time. After this moment passes, those who do not attend will never be able to say they were at the first Plein Air Convention. It's even been suggested that we do a book documenting this historical moment, and that's something we are exploring. Already we've heard of institutions moving workshops out of these dates because so many people were going to cancel to attend the Plein Air Convention. That's an indication that more people plan to register. We have already sold out one hotel, and another is on its last block of rooms. We have momentum, but it won't be the same without your contribution. I would like to personally ask you to join us.
We have an amazing lineup of faculty. From my understanding, it's rare to have an opportunity to see Clyde Aspevig paint. I can guarantee that out of 750 people, I'm probably one of only three who has ever seen Russian master Nicholai Dubovik paint. We're flying him in from Moscow, and bringing in John Singer Sargent's grand-nephew Richard Ormond from London and Richard Robinson from New Zealand. There are painters coming from Brazil, Ireland, Russia, France, and probably artists from other countries whom I haven't heard about yet.
Better Than a Classroom
We've been asked how we can possibly accommodate such a large crowd. One e-mail suggested that everyone wouldn't be able to see the painters. We have a giant ballroom, and a stage with video cameras focused on every brush stroke, to be projected on two 60-foot screens. You'll be able to watch Scott Christensen, Ken Auster, Kenn Backhaus, Camille Przewodek, Peter Adams, Kim Lordier, Jeremy Lipking, Russian-trained Ulrich Gleiter from Germany, Matt Smith, Ned Muller, Bryan Mark Taylor, and Jean LeGassick, up close and personal on the big screens.
The Blood of John Singer Sargent
We all know and love Sargent, and who better to tell us about his life, his painting, his plein air work, and the inside family stories than the grandson of Sargent's sister? Richard Ormond is the world's leading Sargent expert and biographer. We're bringing him in from London for this special historical event. How often do you get to meet a blood relative of Sargent's? I'm not sure we can ever top this.
The Russians Are Coming
When I visited Russia in 2006 I learned the influence the Russians had on art in America, Europe, and China. They continued academic study while others were chasing the trail of modernism. In Russia, plein air landscape painting is a major part of the curriculum for figurative work because it trains the eye, helping artists see light, shape, values, color, and form. So we decided to do a Russian Day on Saturday during the Plein Air Convention, and we're flying in Russian master Nicholai Dobovik from Moscow. He teaches at what some say is the best art school in the world, the Surikov Institute of the State Russian Academy of Art.
We're putting Russian painter Alexey Steele -- who also attended the Surikov -- on stage with Nicholai, and both will be painting while Alexey translates. We'll follow that with a brilliant lecture by John Wurdeman, a very deeply connected dealer in Russian art who will show images and speak about the history of Russian art and plein air. This day alone is going to be worth the trip. (Of course, Ulrich Gleiter also trained at the Surikov, and he too will paint on stage at a different time.)
The Icing on the Cake
Our last day indoors will end with historian Jean Stern, who is one of the most articulate speakers about the history of plein air and the influence of today's movement, and part of a family of art aficionados. If you have not heard Jean Stern's passion about plein air, this will help you connect the importance of your role to history. California Art Club's Elaine Adams is making the trip from Los Angeles to share the stage with Jean.
The Crisp Mountain Air and the Sun-Drenched Red Rocks On Saturday morning, buses will pick us up at the hotel, and we will travel to Springhill Ranch, a nearby state park and onetime home of Howard Hughes. The property is magnificent -- we've just added this to our adventure. You can then stay there and paint, observe dozens of demos by our brilliant faculty, or take a shuttle to the nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which has granted us a special permit to paint. The colors and vast landscapes are out of this world. Then, because you've asked for more painting, we're heading out on Sunday morning to catch the morning light in Old Nevada Bonnie Springs, an old Western town with old Western streets, cowboys, animals, and mountains in the background. Of course, many attendees are coming early and staying late to capture the nearby parks and vistas, the Grand Canyon, Bryce National Park, Hoover Dam, and dozens of other sites. The weather should be spectacular.
You can watch demos on location or set up and paint. Here are the faculty members you can expect to see during your time in Nevada.
Carol Guzman Aspevig
Michael Chesley Johnson
Morgan Samuel Price
Bryan Mark Taylor
There Is No Elite
A woman called today and expressed her concern that the "elite" painters, as she called them, would be off in their own little cliques and at their own private parties. In the Adirondacks, we proved that would not happen. We have selected every instructor on our faculty not only for their special skills, but for their gift of generosity. The people teaching want to share their gift and their time, and there is no painter who is too unskilled, no painter who is too inexperienced. You are welcome here. You are part of the family. You will leave with new friends and won't for a moment think that there was an "elite group." Everyone coming is doing so because they want to share what they have learned to improve the lives of others. Prima donnas are encouraged to stay home. This is YOUR event.
Decision Time Is Now
It's close to decision time. The conference is just weeks away, and we think it will sell out. We already sold out a giant hotel in Las Vegas. (Wondering "Why Vegas?" http://www.pleinairconvention.com/Homepage/11005914) Most people make their decision in the last two or three weeks. If you're flying in, there is still time to capture better airline rates. Oh, and check this list: If you're a member, these groups (http://www.pleinairconvention.com/pages/11969204.php?) have arranged for special discounts. Also, if you've attended workshops with any of our faculty recently, you can get a special faculty discount.
Book Before March 31 and Save $200
The price goes up another $200 on March 31, so now is the time to book. And there are still decent rates on the airlines; flying in to Vegas is reasonable from anywhere in the world.
Be a Part of Something Bigger
No one knows better than you how much art has touched your own life. Let's make this the most important event in the history of plein air. We already have painters, galleries, and collectors, and we still have room for a few more. But that won't be the case soon.
Be a part of something bigger than all of us. Use this as a chance to improve yourself, your art, your knowledge, and your friendships. There will be wonderful social opportunities, and you will be embraced. And one day painters in the future will look to this first event and dream about what it would have been like to attend. They will never have that chance. You do. Don't pass it up. We may never pass this way again.
To register, go to www.pleinairconvention.com. or phone 561-655-8778. But do it quickly to grab a seat.
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