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Artist Ken DeWaard finds truth in real, live moments

Article from LaCrosse Tribune

June 30, 2014 12:00 am • By Natalie Goodman

"To me, a world without art is a room without any windows. Art is a window to the world, and it soothes the soul and mind."

Ken DeWaard, artist

VIROQUA — Artist Ken DeWaard describes his passion for art as an “affliction.”

“My mind is constantly drifting because I’m looking at the clouds, or a scene,” DeWaard says. “As an artist, you’re continually observing nature, and I was very enamored with it from an early age.”

DeWaard, a 12-year Viroqua resident, has received national recognition for his work in plein air painting. “Plein air,” an abbreviated French phrase translating to “in the open air,” involves the artist painting a scene outside, on location.

He began his formal education at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, focusing mainly on figure drawing. After a friend suggested he try painting outside, he took his easel to the streets.

DeWaard says he was surprised at how difficult plein air painting was at first. Unlike solitary studio work, painting outdoors required him to battle waning natural light and distractions such as people, noise and bugs, forcing him to work much more quickly.

“Of course, these are now things I love about it,” he says.

In plein air, DeWaard found the spontaneity absent from studio work. He says painting on location allows him to capture the moment as he is experiencing it.

“You’re trying to get the flavor of the light, the warm, the cool, and then you move on,” he says. “In the studio, you have a lot of time to over-think a painting.”

DeWaard’s fast-paced work has fostered an impressionistic, rather than photo-realistic, style. He gets a general imprint of what he sees and then takes the painting back to his studio to add the finishing touches.

“You have to be able to edit what’s there and really push for a better design, because it’s rare that Mother Nature ever does it perfectly correct,” he says. “You’re creating a scene — you’re building from nature, but you’re also making it your own.”

Along with capturing natural beauty, Plein air painting often is about documentation. DeWaard has participated in workshops nationwide devoted to capturing a natural landscape before it is lost to human development or natural forces.

“We’re preserving something — why or who for, I’m not sure — but that’s a lot of what we do.”

Because of the weather, summer is DeWaard’s busiest season, and just this year he has been featured at workshops in Wisconsin, Florida and will soon be head to Richmond, Va., for a week.

DeWaard says workshops are not just about painting pretty areas; they also allow him to meet other artists and share ideas and influences.

This generous, communal aspect of art inspires DeWaard. Although he often meets other artists through competitions, he has found the community as a whole to be overwhelmingly supportive and cooperative.

“I think it’s really difficult to stand on your own without being influenced by all these others who came before you,” he says. “It’s not sitting alone in your studio with all your little secrets you want to keep to yourself.”

DeWaard adds to this sharing community by teaching in workshops and classrooms.

“As a teacher, you really take as much as you give. Whether it’s something unexpected someone does or the way they look at it, I always walk away learning something.”

He says that anyone can learn the techniques and basics, but it is the passion that drives a student to paint that is most important.

DeWaard believes this spirit of truth and connection is what makes the arts an essential component of society.

“If I can convey to viewers that sense of energy and excitement I felt in the moment I was painting, then I think I’ve accomplished my feat,” he says.

“To me, a world without art is a room without any windows. Art is a window to the world, and it soothes the soul and mind.”

“To me, a world without art is a room without any windows. Art is a window to the world, and it soothes the soul and mind.” Ken DeWaard, artist





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