Plein air artist Merrimon Kennedy uses bold strokes and colors to create painterly landscapes of the American Southwest. Enjoy more by visiting her website.
Running an art gallery was not my career plan when I was in college. From an early age I knew I wanted to be an artist. Luckily my parents encouraged my interest in art, particularly my mother.
After college was another story. I had the desire, but knowing how to make a living as an artist was a puzzle. After exploring various paths without success, fate put me in the position of buying an existing gallery on the coast of North Carolina, my home state. It seemed like a brilliant move—I could combine my recent experience in retail and marketing with my degree in painting to stay connected to the art world. The business was up and running and I would have a venue to exhibit my artwork!
Early on I discovered that running a gallery would be hard work and long hours, although there were rewards. I enjoyed curating the exhibitions and match-making collectors to artists, and introduced some visitors to their first experience purchasing original art. I became involved in my community and organized a monthly gallery night to promote the art venues in my downtown neighborhood. This practice continued for twenty years.
The one thing I didn’t seem to have time to do was paint. In 2015, I sold the business and my husband and I headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico to begin a new chapter in our lives.
After thirty years of not working as an artist, it was difficult to get started again. I took an online painting workshop and slowly my work evolved.
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The course was not focused on plein air, but the instructor encouraged us to try it. I found that the light outdoors was far superior to the light in the studio. In addition, being outside was very pleasant.
I did a “paintout” event with other artists for a week. Although I was a bit nervous to paint in public, it was a revelation. Despite the potential discomforts (carrying equipment, weather, insects, and so on) I realized that this is what I needed to do.
Before moving to the Southwest, I never had an interest in painting landscapes. Suddenly, I felt a strong visual connection to my surroundings and the opportunity to share a sense of time and place with my artwork.
There’s no other feeling like being “in the flow.” Nothing else matters; I am intent only on my painting. With a small window of time to before the light changes, speed is crucial. I enjoy the physicality of making bold, decisive strokes on my painting surface. Paint applied can be scraped, smeared or incised with a tool. I want my work to appear spontaneous, regardless of whether it was.
Though I enjoy painting from observation, I have also begun translating my smaller studies into larger scale pieces in the studio. Oil is my primary medium of choice, though I like exploring other media including acrylic, gouache, pastels and oil with cold wax medium. As a gallerist, I made a difference to my community, my artists and my collectors. My life as a painter is far more personally rewarding.
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