Different strokes: Shorewood Plein Air festival draws variety of artists

Johnna Papin will be one of 54 professional artists painting outdoors for Plein Air Shorewood from Thursday to Saturday with events on each day, culminating in a sale of more than 150 paintings.

Johnna Papin will be one of 54 professional artists painting outdoors for Plein Air Shorewood from Thursday to Saturday with events on each day, culminating in a sale of more than 150 paintings. Photo By John O’Hara

Sept. 18, 2013

Shorewood — From her studio on Oakland Avenue, Johnna Papin remakes her surroundings in a whirl of vibrant colors and shapes.

"I like to put a little of myself in there," says Papin, "a little of what I see, a little of what I feel."

Under her brush, flower pots across the street spill over in waves of blazing color, the umbrellas over nearby Colectivo Coffee swirl overhead in whimsical exaggeration, and passersby fade into anonymity, their faces featureless and indistinct.

Such is the world as captured by Papin, who toes the line between realistic and abstract painting in an effort to pull viewers into her colorful, stylized works.

"I want you to fill in the story," says Papin. "I want to give you some pieces but I want you to participate, for it to be open ended enough that you can share your own story."

While Papin has honed her skills since her retirement 10 years ago, James Hempel is in his 12th year as a self-supporting artist. After majoring in biology at Lawrence University, he substitute taught math and science in Shorewood and Whitefish Bay for a few years. Unable to land a full-time position in either district, he went back to his perennial interest of drawing and painting, apprenticing himself to James Prohl and becoming one of "very few classically trained portrait painters in the region" at the time.

From his Third Ward studio, Hempel carries the torch of classical painting, producing lifelike portraits, landscapes, and figurative paintings, as well as teaching at the nearby Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

In contrast to Papin's wild colors and fanciful style, Hempel uses his classical training to realistically freeze inspirational moments on canvas.

"The right time and light of day can turn an ordinary scene into an evocative and magical scene, even if it is fleeting," says Hempel. "My eyes are always open for those momentary effects that I can go back to capture."

First-ever event

Papin and Hempel, both Shorewood residents, will be among 52 other professional artists from around the Midwest participating in Shorewood's first-ever Plein Air art festival, which begins early Thursday and concludes in Saturday evening.

French for "in the open air," en plein air is an art style popularized by French impressionist painters like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir in the 19th century. Plein air events around the world put artists outside to paint their take on the spaces people see every day. The artists will have their chance to paint their take on Shorewood's scenery, be it the stately Lake Drive homes, riverfront and lakefront parks, quiet neighborhoods or historical buildings.

Though the event was originally planned for 2012 as a two-year anniversary celebration of the Jaume Plensa sculpture "Spillover II" in Atwater Park, Shorewood's Public Art Committee decided to go with a bigger fanfare event and after research, landed on plein air.

Excellent location

"Shorewood would be a very naturally successful site for the event," says Plein Air Shorewood co-chair and artist Don Berg. "We were encouraged by that, and we started to put the word out, and immediately after announcing it we had a surge of applicants."

By July the event was fully booked at 50 artists, says Berg, after which the committee expanded the list to 54.

"The mission for our Public Art Committee is to make Shorewood an art friendly community, to prove it," says Berg. "This is proving it."

Berg says the festival is an excellent example of the community coming together, through the cooperation of its committees, service organizations, and local businesses drawing the diverse and talented group of artists into the village.

"It's a perfect picture there."


Thursday: 6-9 p.m. Artist and Community Celebration: live music, food and drinks at Hubbard Lodge, 3565 North Morris Blvd.

Friday: 6-10 p.m. Kensington Square Festival: artist celebration with live music, artwork, food and drinks at 4500 North Oakland Avenue

Saturday: 6-10 p.m. gala, awards ceremony, and silent auction of plein air pieces at Shorewood Public Library, 3920 N Murray Ave

Full schedule available at http://pleinairshorewood.com/save-the-date-for-plein-air-shorewood/.

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