Most people wouldn’t associate the sport of “hiking the great outdoors” with the art of painting en plein air, but there it is. Working in plein air can be as simple as pulling off the road to sketch a soulful fence post, or involved as many weeks camping, complete with portable kitchen, studio, bear spray and a firearm, all to backpack a mile or two into pristine wilderness at the crack of dawn or dusk, to capture enviable or unknown vistas on page or canvas.
Except for the firearm, plein air oil painter Mary Ann Warner does it all and wins awards right and left. I last visited with Warner when she was at Act I Gallery, which recently closed it doors. Serendipitously, we breezed hello in a local parking lot last month and afterward I wondered where she was now showing in Taos. Turns out she’s at Wilder Nightingale Fine Art.
“I called her to see if she would be interested in joining me and she said yes,” gallerist Rob Nightingale said. “She wasn’t even looking at galleries anymore.”
While a touch Maynard Dixonesque, Warner’s work is more unabashedly romantic, big gorgeous landscapes that tell tall tales, drawing you in to secretive crevasses, blowing you out over breathtaking cliffs or quickening the pulse with thunder glowering skies.
Contrary to the dreaded “literary” label shunned by modern artists since the 1900s as mere sentimentalism, Warner avidly proclaims her storytelling muse.
“Oh yes, in my process I have to have a story. I have to have an adventure going on. I can’t just pick out light shining on the corner of a building and paint it – I have to have a story.”
So she not only invites the viewer to bring their individual sentiment to her work, she strives to stimulate story with suggestive shadows and quivering staccatos of color, form and line. You literally can feel a hero or heroine plotting their next moves within Warner’s landscapes.
When Act I Gallery shuttered, Warner decided it was time to work on her “bucket list.”
“Before I was accepted into Wilder Nightingale Fine Art I set up a number of workshops and paint-out competitions that took me beyond my comfort zone of Amalia, Albuquerque and Abiquiu,” Warner said. “I realize I was setting up deadlines to achieve a growth not only for painting but also learning to travel alone for long distances. Being old enough to have a bucket list I wanted to see and paint saguaro cacti, the Grand Canyon and Zion Park. I didn’t get to paint all of these but learned how to drive long distances and research places. Now I am ready to go back on my own without the structure of a class or paint-out and not only paint there but camp also.”
For many months she has been retrofitting an AWD 2014 Chevy Express van into a rolling studio.
“The all-wheel-drive is a necessity for driving to places to paint and even during the winter to get to my studio in Taos,” Warner said.
Prepping the van for her mid-August Pacific Northwest painting sojourn required she put her shop tools normally reserved for making canvases, to building a new plywood floor, sleeping quarters and more. She spent weeks making a pattern out of cardboard, crawling under the van to take the measurements and then finally drilling through the floor to secure her new camper studio floor.
“I thought I could find someone to outfit the van for me but alas I could not, so have been doing it on my own,” she said. “I have learned so much and it has been stressful as this is completely out of my comfort zone. I watched many van conversion YouTube videos and learned a lot of what not to do mostly.” With accommodations a minimum of $200 to $300 a night and more in peak season, she can spend less and actually experience more of nature.
“I am humbled to be written about but Rob certainly deserves the press,” Warner said, adding, “He is the best gallery owner to be involved with and I consider myself fortunate to have this opportunity. I have felt welcomed by all at the gallery and hope to bring more business in for everyone.”
Wilder Nightingale Fine Art is located at 119-A Kit Carson Road in Taos. For information, visit wnightingale.com or call (575) 758-3255. Check out Warner’s very colorful and newsy blog at maryannwarnerfineart.com/blog.