New TV series shines light on plein air

KTOO produced and edited episodes featuring outdoor landscape painters in Alaska

Posted: Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Alaska filmmaker Greg Bombeck and his wife visited Santa Catalina Island, Calif., in 2000 and had the chance to attend the annual Plein Air Painters of America exhibition.

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An avid landscape painter and a former graphic design professor at the University of Alaska, Bombeck had long been interested in the resurgence of the outdoor, on-site landscape painting form known as plein air.

"I've always thought that representational art got the short-shrift in recent history," Bombeck said. "There's that Bob Ross kind of thing on TV, but there's much more sophistication than a lot of people think."

Bombeck's conversation with the plein air painters on Catalina was the spark behind the new six-part television series "Plein Air: Painting the American Landscape," produced and edited at KTOO-TV and funded in part by the Rasmuson Foundation.

There's one episode each on Juneau, Seward and Denali Park. Well-known Alaska cinematographer Bill Holden directed the shows.

Plein air programs

• Series: "Plein Air, Painting The American Landscape."

• What: A six-part television series produced and edited at KTOO-TV.

• When: On Alaska One: Thursday, Sept. 6: 9 p.m., "Denali en Plein Air."9:30 p.m., "Cape Cod with Charles Sovek en Plein Air."

Thursday, Sept. 13: 9 p.m., "The Tongass Rain Forest en Plein Air."9:30 p.m. "Taos en Plein Air and the Taos Society of Artists."

Thursday, Sept. 20: 9:30 p.m., "Seward en Plein Air."10 p.m., "Trinidad, Colo. en Plein Air and the California Impressionists."

The series starts statewide Sept. 6 on Alaska One, with the Denali episode at 9, and an installment at Cape Cod at 9:30. The Juneau series will screen at 9 p.m. Sept. 13.

"Plein Air" has been picked up by major markets in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston and Oregon, among others.

"In the last 10 years, with this rebirth in plein air painting, the quality and number of very fine artists has really grown," Bombeck said.

"I had a chance to meet the (Plein Rein) painters in Juneau," he said. "It's a delightful group. There are societies and groups from all over the country springing up."

Bombeck's series winds through Taos, N.M., Trinidad, Colo., and the once-obscure California Impressionist movement. He recruited nationally known plein air artists Matt Smith, Kenn Backhaus and Jean LeGassick for the trek through Alaska and also features University of Alaska Fairbanks professor, art historian and author Kesler Woodward.

"There's some wonderful stories about Eustace Ziegler and Ted Lambert and a trip they took down the Yukon River painting plein air," Bombeck said. "Plein air painting wasn't an end to itself so much as a means to gather information for studio painting. But that doesn't mean that the plein air paintings that are created in the field aren't ends in themselves also."

Much is made of the discipline needed to paint in the often-uncooperative Alaska landscape. While filming at Fish Creek in Juneau in a pouring rain, the crew struggled with their generators and lights to make the footage clear. The painters had little problem.

"These guys are painting in a downpour and they caught the light and the sense of the Tongass in a forest interior," Bombeck said. "I was blown away.

"Plein air certainly is not for everyone," he said. "It's a unique process. These guys go out and paint two or three hours. The ones that are pros, it's truly remarkable to watch them do it."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at 523-2268 or

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