En plein air is the French term for painting outdoors; it translates as “in the open air.” This method of painting became popular in the late nineteenth century with the Dutch painter Johan Jongkind and his artist friends, the French painters Claude Monet and Eugene Boudin. These artists, along with many others, eschewed the strict rules of academic studio painting for the challenges inherent in painting outside. Wind, rain, shifting light, sounds, smells, and other distractions are all dynamic challenges facing the plein air artist. These vagaries of nature have a direct influence on work done in the field. When a painting is well executed, these unpredictable natural elements often lend a distinct intimacy and freshness to the work.
Neil Riley works in the open air using a compact French box easel that allows him to easily transport and set up his canvases, colors, and palettes in the field. Kettle Pond is five miles from his home in Marshfield, Vermont. From the vantage point of the Civilian Conservation Corps picnic shelter in Groton State Park, Riley is able to paint this scene in different seasons, in various kinds weather. Here in Kettle Pond, Spring Thaw, Riley depicts the iconic shape of the pond on a grey day with ice retreating from the warmer banks. Riley says, “Though the view is expansive, it doesn’t seem dramatic; the scale is grand but also approachable, akin to a still life.”
Riley’s paintings of his environment reflect a sensitive and honest engagement with the world. His work is quiet, with an abiding resonance that speaks to a deep and attentive love of nature.
Neil Riley has been an associate professor of painting and drawing at Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio for the past nine years and also spends a portion of his time painting in Vermont. He has been a lecturer at Dartmouth College and the Jerusalem Studio School. His awards include a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy and a residency at the Klots Chateau in Rochefort-en-Tere, France. He shows with the Keny Galleries in Columbus, Ohio. He may be reached via email here.