Western artists drift toward places of natural wonder. Last November, Jeff Troupe, a plein air painter from California, moved to the Flathead Valley with his wife, Patti. Like so many others, he was first drawn to Glacier National Park. Then he found inspiration somewhere else. He began painting buildings in downtown Kalispell.
He created almost 50 portraits of storefronts and businesses on Kalispell’s Main Street. Through Oct. 23, Troupe will display these plein air paintings in his studio at Wild Eye Artistry in Kalispell in a show called “Downtown Perspective.”
En plein air means “in open air” in French and describes works completed outdoors in one session. Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, both French Impressionists, practiced painting en plein air. The goal is not to render the scene in photographic perfection. Instead, plein air painters focus on the light, which expresses the fleeting moment and communicates its emotional, experiential content to the viewer. Their paintings often convey nature’s softness and quietness, and have a sense of peace.
“Most plein air artists probably don’t like to be bugged, or to have so much noise around, or be in a city,” Troupe said. Plein air isn’t typically done in an urban setting, but there’s something to be said about using this style to portray downtown Kalispell: It’s as worthy a subject as the national park.
“What makes Kalispell special is the light posts, the flower baskets that are beautiful, the sandwich boards, and people walking from store to store,” Troupe said. “It’s quaint. The owner puts their personal touch on the store. You don’t get the same feeling in a mall or at big box stores where you could be in Anytown, USA.”
Troupe’s paintings, each of a different building from various angles and distances, capture the warm, small-town community feeling he’s talking about. It starts with the simple act of giving almost 50 downtown buildings, from the beautiful and historic to the unremarkable, their own painting. It’s validation that each one is distinct, unique, and deserving of artistic attention.
The works are colorful, warm, and expressive. There’s also something fascinating about seeing such ordinary parts of our everyday lives on canvas. Troupe included everything – a familiar floral arrangement, the local newspaper dispensers, and even the stop sign you’ve halted at countless times. It’s all there. Troupe offers the chance to view the ordinary through an artist’s perspective.
He first began painting buildings after Rick Green, the owner of Wild Eye, saw Troupe’s work at the Hockaday Museum Plein Air Glacier exhibit, where artists displayed their art days after they had painted it. Green invited Troupe to paint at his studio.
“And I said, ‘why don’t I just paint on the street?’” Troupe enjoys architecture and working with perspective, and painting on the sidewalk seemed better suited for plein air than painting from inside the studio.
Green liked the urban plein air and encouraged Troupe to keep painting buildings. The idea for a bigger project grew, and soon Troupe began moving up and down the street. He estimates that he spent about 150 hours on pavement.
He also spent a few more back in the studio, to complete two works that he didn’t paint strictly according to the plein air style. One is of a man in a blue jumpsuit walking down the sidewalk while pulling a cart behind him —plein air is not meant for moving objects. Though the man’s face is pointed away, his identity is clear to anyone who spends much time downtown. It’s Paul Faessel, of the Kalispell Business Improvement District, who works to keep Main Street beautiful. The moment Troupe depicted is a perfect example of the special spirit he wanted to capture.
“He’s wonderful,” Troupe said. “Paul is part of Main Street.”
On Friday, Oct 16 Wild Eye Artistry will keep the doors open until 7 p.m. to give people the opportunity to speak with Jeff in person about his work.
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