JACKSON CENTER — A landscape that cleverly includes portraits has taken top honors in the first Airstream Fine Art Invitational exhibit here.
The show features work by 25 of the top landscape painters in the United States today. It opened to the public May 24 and runs through June 4, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Customer Service building on the Airstream compound, 419 W. Pike St. Admission is free.
Judge Jennifer Complo McNutt, curator of contemporary art at the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana, selected “The Light of an Uncertain World,” by Stephen Fox, of Brooklyn, New York, for the $1,000 first prize. The picture puts the viewer among cars at a drive-in movie theater, watching the film “Casablanca.” The screen shows a moment between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
“I started this one in February,” Fox said in April. “I’m listening to the (presidential) campaign. The country is in a very strange place. I know that some of that is in the painting. Ingrid Bergman is looking out with a scared face. It’s a place in the movie where the Nazis are coming. That’s not the point of the painting, but it’s in there.”
The movie couple look toward a kiosk advertising the coming attraction, which features a superhero. “Will the superhero save them? Save the country?” the painting seems to ask. Its sky may foretell a coming storm but its points of light perhaps show a way out of danger. They fall on a road that leads beyond the drive-in.
“I was looking for work that’s smart, compositionally smart, representing traveling in America, representing the Airstream cult,” McNutt said about why she honored Fox’s piece. “This representation of a drive-in theater gives you a feeling of being mobile. The iconic figures on the screen, black and white in the middle of a deep night palette. A blue, purply green night palette gives you that green, smoky, foggy, humid feeling that you get at the drive-in.”
Tim Horn’s “Silver Streak” captured the second prize. The Fairfax, California, painter won $500 for his depiction of an Airstream trailer reflecting in wavery, shiny gleam the landscape around it.
People who visit the exhibit can vote for their favorites among the 25 artworks. The painter of the most popular picture will get a $250 People’s Choice award.
The art show runs in conjunction with Alumapalooza, an annual reunion of Airstream trailer owners coordinated by Airstream Life magazine and the Wally Byam Caravan Club.
“We put the show together for owners who have wanderlust to share travel stories through their art,” said Karen Kist, Airstream marketing operations manager. Officials decided to open the exhibit to the public to link Alumapalooza to the community.
“There’s a good sense of community in Jackson Center that’s compounded every year through Alumapalooza,” Kist said. This is a “test year” for the art show, she noted. If there is enough attendance, it may become an annual part of the reunion.
All submissions ‘awe-inspiring’
Kist said she wasn’t surprised by the national-level artists’ response to invitations to participate and is impressed by their work.
“I’ve been watching these paintings come in for the last few weeks and every single one is awe-inspiring,” she said.
“People are just beginning to understand the weight of this collection,” said Dan Knepper, of Jackson Center, who helped to curate the exhibit. “It would be like living in the time of Rembrandt and seeing work that he just did. These are the artists that will be the remembered artists of our time. Some of them are living legends.”
Fox was shocked to learn he had won.
“I’ve perused the artists that were invited and there’s some really, really high-quality work,” he said, “so (winning is) great.”
McNutt said it was important to her to know the mission of the exhibit before she started judging.
“For 85 years, Airstreamers have taken their beloved silver bullet trailers across the vast landscapes of America,” wrote Airstream Marketing Coordinator Brittany Fullenkamp for a placard posted at the entrance to the show. “From the painted deserts of the southwest and rolling farmland of the midland to the majestic mountains of the northwest and sunny beaches of the east coast, we’ve explored the wonder and awe of the varied American landscapes.
“These spots have also influenced many great artists to capture the beautiful moments of nature. This exhibit showcases those fleeting moments — the perfect sunset, the hidden stream, the open road ahead — captured by some of today’s top living landscape artists. Their work celebrates the world around us, the world in which you love to travel.”
A requirement for the artists was to make the paintings small enough to fit through the door of an Airstream, so owners who want to purchase them wouldn’t be deterred by their size. Each artwork is for sale.
“I hope (the exhibit) gets a good response,” Fox said.
“The paintings are all paintings people can relate to and they’re all great paintings,” McNutt said. Even people who don’t know a lot about art will “really like this show,” she added. “It’s sort of nostalgic.”
The Ohio Plein Air Society, an organization of painters from around the state who work on location outside, will have a paint-out in Jackson Center and Wapakoneta from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., June 4. Several will probably set up their easels near Alumapalooza events.