Summer, when the days are long and the painting festivals numerous, is often the busiest time of the year for plein air painters and John Hughes often feels that he overbooks himself during these months. This summer, his painting travels took him from Utah to Southern California, back to Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. But by now, painting in the open air has become a lifelong commitment for the teacher, award-winning painter and former 15 Bytes columnist.
“Aside from a need to create and fulfill that artistic yearning, the mere fact of being out in nature in this solitude of amazing sights is enough to keep me coming back year after year,” Hughes says. “My life’s work is definitely a solitary sport if you will, and one which satisfies the artistic loner instinct that I have, along with many of my fellow outdoor landscape painters. It’s not that we are trying to avoid people, that just comes naturally as a means of coping with life I suppose. Many of us are quite gregarious at times and can entertain crowds of onlookers and workshop attendees when the situation arises, but at some point, we will always retire to ‘our caves’ for some R-and-R, in order to stay centered.”
Hughes finished his summer at the Bozeman Art Museum in Montana, “where twenty something artists from all over the country descended on this college town with only art supplies and frames at the beginning of the week, and wound up with dozens of on-location paintings to hang in the Museum by weeks end.”
On the way back, he stopped for the night in the Grand Tetons, a favorite painting spot. “Since I had been painting for a show all week long, I set out that evening for Schwabacher Landing to ponder the fleeting sunset which was bathed in a warm grayish summer atmosphere. When I pulled over, I felt the need to paint just for the pleasure of it, with no concerns about being somewhere else and having to fulfill any commitments. As I basked in the evening ambiance, I pulled out my gear from the back of the pickup truck and began to work.
As I was finishing up my painting a young couple showed up with a photographer in tow, and they told me that they were there to record the young man’s proposal to his sweetheart in the setting of this beautiful location. Luckily, she said yes! As they were getting ready to leave, they stopped by and told me about the event and expressed interest in what I was doing. To make a long story short, the young fellow contacted me several days later and purchased the painting as a wedding surprise for his future bride. Whenever I return to that spot in the future, I will never forget that moment in time, and now neither will they!”
John Hughes’ plein air work is featured in Art on the Highway, a collection of works by Plein Air Painters of Utah working along US Route 89. It will be at the Springville Museum of Art, November 15, 2023 – mid March 2024, after having traveled from Salt Lake City to Mt. Carmel this summer.
Inspired by the French Salon d’Automne, a less formal alternative to the official Salon in the Spring, our Autumn Salon series highlights work Utah artist created during the summer months and informed by travel.