Isabel Pacchiana ’24 paints the foliage against the river at Lock 7 in Niskayuna.

Plein air class exhibits paintings at KAC

Publication Date

“Layers of Autumn,” an exhibition showcasing student art painted in outdoor settings around the region, opens at the Kelly Adirondack Center Sunday, Jan. 8, with a public reception that day from 2 to 4 p.m.

The show features works by Shriya Balaji '23, Natalie Berg-Pappert '23, Talia Coker '23, Saliha Nazir '23, Isabel Pacchiana '24 and Emily Zucco '23. All are studio fine arts majors or minors who took Laini Nemett’s fall Plein Air Painting course.

Plein air painting is the practice of painting landscapes or impressions of the outdoors while working in the open air. Plein air artists are known for capturing the natural light, color and movement of their subject matter.

A student painting in Jackson's Garden as a professor looks on

Professor Laini Nemett, right, and Emily Zucco '23 discuss Emily's painting in progress.

This marks the first time the Department of Visual Arts has offered a course entirely dedicated to bringing painting out of the studio and into open-air settings.

“Following the storied tradition of plein air painting and its recent revitalization in the contemporary art world, this course brought students outdoors almost every day to paint from life in nature,” said Nemett, professor of visual arts in painting and drawing.

“The works in this exhibition represent the many unique ways artists can interpret a similar scene and be inspired by their relationship to the environment.”

Students painted in Jackson’s Garden and other outdoor spaces on campus, at Lock 7 Park on the Mohawk River, and in Kaaterskill Falls, in Palenville, N.Y., a favorite among generations of landscape painters of the renowned Hudson River School.

For many, like Coker, painting outdoors offered a fresh perspective.

“I have painted nature based on photographs, but this was my first time working plein air, being in the environment of the scene I was painting, said Coker, a studio fine arts major from Schenectady. “It allowed me to see details I wouldn’t be able to see in a photo. For example, the colors can shift depending on the weather. One minute, a color can look super warm, and then a change in the sunlight can alter the colors completely.”

Among other things, Coker said she learned to paint more quickly, incorporate a drying medium and use a palette knife as a scraping tool.

“This course has taught me so much about how to work with oil paint, the importance of color theory and how to paint from life. I will definitely continue to paint in plein air for my own artwork.”

A student  painting new the Kaaterskill Falls, in Palenville, N.Y.

Natalie Berg-Pappert ’23 is inspired by the beauty of Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskills.

Student at an easel painting.

Shriya Balaji ’23 makes final touches on her painting of the Mohawk River at Lock 7 Park.

Balaji, a neuroscience major and studio fine arts minor from Littleton, Mass., was excited about expanding her usual subject matter of portraits and still life objects.

“This course taught me how to look at the vastness of nature and simplify it into shapes and tones that capture the essence of the scene so I can easily translate it to canvas,” she said. “Overall, it made me improve as an artist and become more confident in painting Mother Nature.”

Plein Air Painting grew out of Nemett’s experience of painting from life in her Schenectady neighborhood during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I painted the same scene from my porch or window throughout the time we sheltered in place. I felt like I learned more about color and paint during this period than almost ever before, even though I’d been painting my whole life, and I’ve continued to work en plein air regularly since then,” Nemett said.

It was during the peak of autumn 2021 that she noticed “textbook principles of color theory everywhere in the foliage surrounding me, and it was an obvious next step to design this course for the following fall term.”

“Layers of Autumn” runs through June 4. In addition to works made by the individual student artists, it features one two-panel painting made collaboratively at the Adirondack center by all of the students.

The KAC is open to the public Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The former home of conservationist Paul Schaefer, the Kelly Adirondack Center was established in 2011 to offer exciting opportunities to advance Union’s understanding of the mountains, wilderness and waterways of the Adirondack Park and the New York State Forest Preserve. Its Adirondack Research Library features a unique collection of rare books, maps, photographs, documents and the personal papers of some of the region’s foremost conservationists.

Students at an easel painting.

Shriya Balaji '23 and Natalie Berg-Pappert '23 capture the color and light of the landscape.

Students show off their paintings

AVA 365 students work on a collaborative painting at the Kelly Adirondack Center.