The French term en plein air translates simply as in the open air. It is commonly applied in the art world to describe paintings created outdoors. Artists find themselves drawn to the outdoors, favoring the cool breeze in their hair and the distinct natural light to the often musty confines of their studios. Armed with portable easels and materials, artists set off into the landscape to create studies and finished works of the world around them.
Australia has a fantastic history of plein air painting stretching from early colonial artists such as Eugene Von Guerard and George French Angas, through wonderful Impressionists such as Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Charles Conder, to artists working today. One of the many nuances of plein air painting is that the artist is more immediately experiencing the place that they are representing. The process is often discussed in romantic, heroic terms, with the artist consistently referred to as ‘capturing’ a sense of place or time. Amongst our contemporary Australian artists are figures such as John Wolseley, famous for his extended treks which move beyond simple painting via the incorporation of processes such as the use of branches and leaves for mark making, adding soil to his surface and even the burial of canvases for later excavation. In all cases, these artists are considered in terms of their adventuring expeditions and the observations and artworks resulting from them. So, it only makes sense that I should develop an easel attachment for my tall bike.
Pictured here in its prototype stage, the attachment allows the rider use the bike as a support for painting, enabling the artist the freedom to ride to any desired location and pursue their making, plein air. The process of traversing the landscape on bicycle imbues the rider with a tangible experience of that place, which becomes transferred to that persons understanding and the work that they produce. The easel attachment also lends itself nicely as a metaphor for this project as a whole, where the bicycle is the primary site for creativity.
This variation is collapsible, breaking down into it’s various components for easy stowage and carrying. Those of you who are more bike oriented might recognise some of the commonly available bits that have been repurposed here.