Creative Commuting: Artist Bobbie Miller takes inspiration, appreciation from daily drive

By on November 29, 2017

“Autumn in Buffalo Valley”, Fir Creek Ranch, Moran, WY, 11” x 14”, Oil

Artist Bobbie Miller’s drive from her home in Moran to Jackson is more than just a commute. It’s her inspiration.

From behind the windshield she takes in the scenery, not with just an appreciative eye but a critical one. She notes color and evaluates space. She thinks about how she could convey the three-dimension scene she sees and the emotions it evokes on a two-dimensional surface.

“My eyes have just opened up to a whole different art experience,” she said. “You begin even when you don’t have a paint brush or pencil in your hand.”

Miller isn’t the only one who sees the valley through an artist’s eye and then renders it in paint. The Jackson Hole Art Association is showcasing works by Miller and about 30 of her colleagues and friends in the exhibition “On Location.”

The show, which opens with a reception this Friday, features works created in the last year by members of the Teton Plein Air Painters.

Miller co-founded the group with Joe Branca in 2012 after the two took a painting class in Driggs, Idaho. Miller spent years filling sketchbooks with notes and painting ideas.

She took the plein air painting class with hopes it would inspire her to actually paint – and do it outside.

“It’s a different experience than studio painting,” she said. “It has to do not only with being outside and a love of nature, but realizing you can create more accurate art observation … and the art is more spontaneous and direct. You have to confront a lot of the art elements such as line and form and color and space, but in a quick period of time because the light is fleeting.”

Even when you plan to do most of your work later in the studio, working on sketches and notes outside has the added challenge of the elements and being part of the landscape, she said.

Miller and Branca decided after the class to meet once a week to practice what they’d learned and make sure they stuck with it. They invited friends and acquaintances, and soon amassed an email list of more than 60 people they alerted each week of where they would paint. The group grew so large the Art Association took it under its umbrella last year, Miller said.

They meet from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays from May through October at scenic locations across the valley. Some days, only about five people show up. Other times there are more than 20, Miller said.

“On Location” features the work of artists who attended at least one session of the painting group in the last year. They could submit up to three works from the sites where the group painted, which included popular places like Mormon Row and Oxbow Bend, as well as private ranches.

Despite the artists creating the work at the same locations, the show is incredibly diverse, said Bronwyn Minton, director of exhibits and programs at the Art Association.

Some are close details of flowers, while others are traditional landscapes with sweeping views, she said. There are a variety of painting styles and sizes in the exhibition.

“I think it’s going to make for a very interesting show,” she said.

The diversity in the work that the members of the group produce amazes and inspires Miller to push her own work in new directions, she said. She’s been working in oil paints lately and challenged herself to using a limited palette of white, red, black and yellow ochre.

But the part she loves best is the camaraderie within the group. Plein air painting can be a lonely endeavor. Some artists like to work at distance and remain independent on the outskirts of the group, while others look for a more social experience. The group accommodates both types of artists and all the moods between, she said.

Painting in the environment with the group changed Miller’s relationship with the scenery and the landscapes she sees regularly. Instead of blowing by an overlook with a stunning view she’s become immune to seeing, , she thinks about how she’d capture it on canvas.

“Plein air painting completely changes your world view,” she said. And she hopes “On Location,” will share that altered lens with viewers. PJH

On Location, an exhibition of work from the Teton Plein Air Painters, show opens with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday and hangs through Dec. 31, Main Gallery, Art Association of Jackson Hole at the Center for the Arts.

About Kelsey Dayton

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