Late summer in the Northwest finished hot and dry, smoke and ash drifting from the wildfires drizzling down onto our outdoor evening tête-à-têtes in the city. The Gorge fire was the closest to us. Ash blew with the east winds and if windows were left open you awoke with ash on the sills and furniture and floor. Down south one of my brothers and his family were safe but dramatically affected by the wine country fires. Now in Portland we’ve had a few days of sweeping rains, and suddenly flood alerts replace air quality alerts, but today is a lovely fall day, and I took a walk through Mt Tabor Park.
I wanted to walk in the sun, so in the afternoon I climbed over to the road above Reservoir Number 5, around its south end, to the flat road up above Reservoir Number 6. I stopped to take a picture overlooking the water, across the Hawthorne neighborhoods to the city and West Hills beyond. Now walking north, I noticed an artist standing at an easel, working.
I took a few pics of him working and got his permission to post them to my blog. The artist is Jonathan Luczycki, who paints in the plein-air style, which means he paints outdoors and tries to catch the light and colors, shadows and shapes, of a particular moment, before that exact image changes and is lost forever. I thought to myself, “This guy is a poet who paints.” Jonathan explained the plein-air artist must work quickly before the moving lights and colors change. It strikes me as a very physical kind of painting. Because of the speed with which they must work, the plein-air artist canvas is often smaller in size.
Painting from a photograph will not produce the same effects the plein-air artist achieves. For one thing, a camera rarely captures true color (indeed, what even is “true-color,” when we all see things so differently). More importantly, the camera is too quick, works too fast, freezes the image. The plein-air work breathes, catches subtle changes, of a human view.
I talked with Jonathan for just a few minutes, and he continued to work as we talked. But he was personable, friendly, outgoing. That is the beauty of working outdoors. I promised myself I will get back to writing some sidewalk cafe poems, some plein-air poems.