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Kemper ArtCast: Observational Expertise

Wilbur Niewald, Trees at Linda Hall Library, 1996 oil paint on canvas 29 x 36 inches.
Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection
Wilbur Niewald, Trees at Linda Hall Library, 1996 oil paint on canvas 29 x 36 inches.

In this interview, Kemper Museum Educator of School and Family Programs, Lauren Park, talks to exhibition artist Wilbur Niewald about the term “plein air” painting. Wilbur Niewald says the idea “goes back probably to Impressionism, where the painters went outside and worked directly.  I’m often referred to as a plein air painter, but I spend half of my time inside, painting still lifes and figures."

Painting outdoors has unique challenges. For example, the light outside can change dramatically within one hour.  New York- and Maine-based artist Lois Dodd—whose paintings will be on view this summer at the Kemper Museum—also paints outdoors, as well as from her studio, but Niewald notes “someone that would be painting from a window inside, and painting landscape outside, technically is not plein air painting.” 
Over his history of painting, Niewald’s technique has developed, though it is “not deliberate.” Style is not his concern. “I work longer on a painting.  Make more corrections, and it’s a little more complex…more subtle perhaps… all those things change, just as you mature, just as you understand.” Niewald taught at the Kansas City Art Institute for more than forty years and is now professor emeritus of painting.

The exhibition Wilbur Niewald: The Studio Portrait is on view now through September 23 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition Lois Dodd: Catching the Light, featuring more than fifty paintings from six decades, is on view May 18–August 29, also at the Kemper Museum.

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