Harrison Center Artist Curates National Plein Air Exhibition: Nothin’ Plein About It

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The other day I sat down to talk with fellow Harrison Center artist, Justin Vining, about a plein air exhibition he is curating at Clowes Memorial Hall. The show, In Open Air, runs from August 7th - October 7th and features work from eighteen national and local artists, several of whom have studios at the Harrison Center. Those who know Justin know him to be a strong advocate for the arts, but one of the reasons I was excited to talk with him about this show is that I’ve always known Justin to be an advocate for artists themselves, frequently looking for ways to connect with and learn from them. In fact, two of his studio walls are covered from floor to ceiling with original work he has collected from his favorite artists (and that’s not even all of it).

It was no surprise, then, that when asked to have a show at Clowes Hall, Justin asked if he could invite other artists to join. “I immediately began thinking about this show after Clowes Hall asked me to fill the space,” explains Justin. “I wanted friends to help me fill it. Of course, I thought of Harrison Center artists I paint with often, but I also saw it as an opportunity to pull from other artists.” Of the artists participating in the show, he owns 52 original paintings.

While each artist is vastly different in many ways, the practice of each to paint en plein air is a unifying theme of the show. Justin explains, “It’s the experience of it – the surprising elements of slipping in water while crossing a creek, dropping a painting into the snow, tons of bugs landing in the paintings – that makes the painting really special and enriches that moment in time.”

An unwavering plein air enthusiast, Justin recalls his favorite memories  with the Harrison Center artists in the show.


“One time Kyle Ragsdale and I went to Shades State Park, and Kyle told me about the spot he wanted to paint, and I thought I knew a shortcut. We probably hiked about 2 miles to this spot with all our painting gear, and halfway out there he said, ‘I don’t think we’re going in the right direction…’ and when we got there he told me the spot was right next to the parking lot. But we stuck with our accidental destination.”

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“Benny Sanders and I go to pretty rough places sometimes, and once we found an empty M62 Dragon Missile government issued military case, and we went a little farther into the building and found 100 more empty cases. We thought we had found some secret arms deal and ran away scared. It ended up being some recycling center for government stuff.”


“A former Harrison Center artist, Caleb Stoltzfus, and I were painting on the circle in downtown Indy. I had to go to the bathroom, and when I came back out there was a total downpour outside, and all I can see is Caleb running like crazy across the circle carrying my easel and all my paint supplies into shelter. I stayed inside until the rain cleared.”

“Another former Harrison Center artist, Jed Dorsey, and I were at the First Brush of Spring in New Harmony, and First Lady of Indiana Janet Holcomb was down there as our guest of honor. Jed has this character he does named ‘Turn-Up Ted,’ which is basically this bandana and mullet wig he wears. Jed walked up to her as Turn-Up Ted and proceeded to carry on a conversation in full character. She played along like a champ.”


In addition to great stories coming out of these moments, Justin also values the skills he has developed through plein plein air painting. “The immediacy of painting outside is unlike any other way of painting,” he says, “I love that you’re forced to be decisive, forced to make decisions about what will make the best painting in the moment. I’m drawn to these particular painters because all of them are able to do that so well. That’s why I buy their work … I find it super inspiring to be surrounded by work like that.”

The majority of work in the show is 8 x 10” - 12 x 16” in the $200-500 range. The show opened Tuesday, August 7 and runs through Sunday, October 7, and Justin will be giving a guided tour at the opening reception on Tuesday, August 28 at 6 pm.

Participating artists:

Alison Barry - Southern MA  
Jason Skyle Conn - Alameda, CA
Jed Dorsey - Camano Island, WA
Dennis Doyle - Weymouth, MA
Jeremy Duncan - Amador County, CA
Jessica Green - Indianapolis, IN
Danny Griego - San Diego, CA
Mike Hernandez - Los Angelos, CA
Shawn Krueger - Grand Rapids, MI
Aaron Cordell Johnson - Moscow, ID
Kyle Ragsdale - Indianapolis, IN
Tad Retz - Syracuse, NY
Benny Sanders - Indianapolis, IN
Caleb Stoltzfus - Philadelphia, PA
Edward Sprafkin - Phoenix, AZ
Stephanie Paige Thomson - Brownsburg, IN
Justin Vining - Indianapolis, IN
Alicia Zanoni - Indianapolis, IN