PLEIN TO SEE
Local artist Kenneth Yarus shares the process of painting in the great outdoors.
“P lein air artist Kenneth Yarus combines his love of the outdoors with his artistic talent, painting his sweeping mountain landscapes outside rather than in a studio. Ever at the mercy of the elements, he consistently captures the beauty of Flathead Valley’s incomparable natural vistas in oil paint.
A: Can you define plein air painting and how you got started in it?
K: Plein air means “out in the open air” in French. Impressionist painters like Monet and others who could easily go outdoors to paint adopted the term. In high school, a local artist, Rachel Warner, invited me to paint plein air. It rained. It hailed. I felt so alive and fresh. We had all these great experiences. You’re responding so immediately to inspiration. Compared to a stagnant studio, it was so exciting.
A: What’s your process like?
K: I strap my easel and supplies on my back in a clumsy 30-pound bag, and I go out to see what scenes suit my fancy. It takes about two hours for a full setup and breakdown, and you’re constantly juggling walking mileage depending on the paintings you want to do. The longest day I did was 12 miles and four paintings – it was great!
A: Where’s your favorite place to paint?
K: Glacier National Park is my core. Every time I go to Avalanche Lake, it takes my breath away. I use the excuse of painting to go back and revisit locations. The more I visit the same places the more I feel like I’ve never been there. Sitting for hours, you get to know a place by heart and notice subtle changes throughout the year: the sky’s a different color in fall, summer air can be smoky, and winter obviously runs the gamut.
A:What are the biggest challenges you face painting outdoors?
K: Wind is by far the most frustrating thing. You can have a really perfect day, but if it’s windy it can be horrible. If wind catches your panel, your painting lands in the weeds and dumps everything. Rain and other bad weather are such an absolute shutdown, but I hate wind the most.
A: Any dangerous encounters?
K: My buddy Richie Carter and I were painting by this noisy waterfall in Glacier, and a black bear rooted around within petting distance from him like nothing was going on. Richie finally saw it and ran. Thankfully, the bear wasn’t aggressive, but it was one of those misses where if it behaved differently, that could have been life-threatening. Bear safety is always a thing. I yell, clap, sing songs, and make a lot of noise to scare them away, but in a waterfall environment the bear’s senses are as overloaded as ours, so there’s additional risk.
A: How does nature inspire your artistic drive?
K: I went to art school in Manhattan and realized how philosophically important being outdoors was for me. I loved the city, but nothing felt as good as painting in nature. My artistic drive is to connect that love with other people.
Photos by: Kenny
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