Sedona Plein Air Festival: Engaging Audience through a Special Theme, Vince Fazio

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The job of the event organizer is to create a vessel that brings art, artists and audience together with a sense of excitement and intrigue building towards a crescendo (or two). This includes balancing different pieces of the event and allowing time for all elements to have their place. It’s a lot like cooking a seven course meal and then hosting the party (for a week). Compositionally it is also like painting…the big pieces have to be interesting on their own and have to come together to create something surprising.

We have been exploring ‘themes’ in the Sedona Plein Air Festival for the past few years and the numbers show that these themes bring an increasing number of new buyers. The theme gives us a new story to tell about the event each year, about painting directly from life, its history and how we can relate that history to the present.

 Sedona Plein Air Festival, Wine and Art 2014

Sedona Plein Air Festival, Wine and Art 2014

Recent ‘themes’ have included our Native American Legacy with paintings done at local native sacred sites near Sedona and an Art and Wine theme with immersive events during the festival at the local vineyards.

The theme’s story engages audience and allows for them to have experiential connections to the artwork beyond the visual image. This year in addition to having fourteen of the top plein air painters in the country painting in the landscape all week with a special award for a painting on the theme of “Water in the Desert”,we are stretching the theme idea further by inviting a separate group of artists that specialize in painting the figure from life to represent the way the impressionists began to explore the creation of new and at the time ‘unlikely’ or perhaps even scandalous subject matter.

 Joshua Been won the poster award at last year's festival. This year a special award will be made for a work on the theme of :"Water in the Desert".

Joshua Been won the poster award at last year's festival. This year a special award will be made for a work on the theme of :"Water in the Desert".

Thus we have created a Speakeasy Salon having in mind the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, and Manet that were focused on the ‘underground’ Parisian night life. The speakeasy being the American version of that time and environment. The inception of this idea was brought forth by artist Carl Ortman at last year’s festival. Carl is a past poster award winner at the Sedona festival (for an artwork that depicted painters in the landscape) and this year will be painting in the speakeasy venue.

What the speakeasy does for us is gives us a way for the audience to participate in interesting ways: from having their own portrait painted during our speakeasy ‘happy hours’ to participating in a rousing casino night, enjoying  jazz musicians and having fun with roving actresses playing gentle con-artists (and of course we will have special prohibition era cocktails)

Artistically I am not interested in artists producing some sort of illustration from the 1920’s. I chose artists for this unique event that have their own strong sense of weaving a subtle narrative perhaps even with a touch of the vintage into a painting that is actually about the structure of presence, in other words, a painting that is about the moment of its own creation – just like a plein air painting.

 Molly, 20x16, Randy Sexton

Molly, 20x16, Randy Sexton

Our keynote speaker Randall Sexton exemplifies this sense of touch. He will be painting for four days in the Speakeasy Salon with seven other artists who have been selected for this unique event, Libby Caldwell, Carl Ortman, Michele Byrne, Dawn Whitelaw, Robert Lemler, David Tanner and Gretchen Lopez. Randall will then teach a 3-day workshop, give a keynote presentation, “Painting in the Moment”, and after the speakeasy he will judge the landscape artists final presentation at the end of the week. This keynote presentation is a unique aspect of our event in keeping with our overall educational mission. 

“I am looking forward with great anticipation to the events this coming October at the Sedona Art Center. As keynote speaker for the Sedona Plein Air Festival I will be sharing my influences which shaped my development as a painter and will be leading a plein air workshop during the popular event. Sedona is chalk full of subject matter that could appeal to any painter's whims - however - this year a "Speakeasy Salon" being created as a special venue. I will be one of a number of invited guest painters working from life with costumed models staged in various themes. While many people are familiar with my plein air work very few are aware of my focus with the human figure. After teaching figure painting for many years I have recently painted a series of interiors and scenes from parks to barber shops to quite moments of contemplation. I look forward to the vintage quality of the Speakeasy harkening back to the new figurative exploration done during the early days of French Impressionism”- Randall Sexton

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Vince Fazio Chairs the Sedona Plein Air Festival now in its 11th year taking place Oct 17 – 24, 2015. He is director of the School of the Arts at the Sedona Arts Center and a painter.