This past Sunday, if you were strolling through the Public Garden around midday, you likely would have come across an artist – or quite a few artists – parked at an easel, paintbrush in hand, squinting at the scene before them. Amid sunbathers and dogwalkers were the artist members of the Copley Society of Art, taking part in the grand artistic tradition of plein air painting for the organization’s annual fundraiser, Fresh Paint.
2018 marks the 30th year of Fresh Paint, started in 1988 by artist member Bill Maloney, with contributions by Ralph Bush and Don Stone. All three were accomplished painters, earning the Copley Society’s highest distinction of Copley Master, and preferred to paint outside, en plein air. The Copley Society (Co|So), the oldest non-profit arts association in the United States, had held art auctions to raise funds before, but Maloney conceived of a more special event. He rounded up a group of members to go out and paint around Boston together, and then at the end of the day all of the freshly painted works were to be auctioned live at the John Hancock Building.
While Maloney, Bush and Stone preferred plein air painting, the practice comes with its own difficulties. The Impressionists certainly romanticized the idea of painting amongst nature in brilliant organic lighting, but only so many materials can be easily carried, painting locations must be nearby necessary amenities, and fuel is need to keep up stamina.
Fresh Paint first timer, new Copley artist member Hannah Cole Dahar, called it “a learning experience.”
“A few times the wind blew my canvas forward onto my palette and I had to start over.” she said, paint covering her clothes, hands, and cheeks. “I’ll probably be out here until the very end. But this will prepare me for next year.” Painting in the Public Garden was a social experience; Dahar said multiple people offered to buy the painting right off of the easel.
Some artists live for plein air painting. Dianne Panarelli Miller, a Copley Master, has participated in 29 out of 30 Fresh Paints.
“Painting in the elements is the whole point!” she said emphatically, glancing upward to reference the scene on Commonwealth Avenue Mall before her. “It’s good to get outside of your studio, to paint from life. And so many people come by to stop and ask what’s going on.”
The social aspect extends beyond the public; some Copley members only come out to Boston for the occasion of Fresh Paint, and to catch up with old artist friends.
Over the years, Paint Day and the gala became separate occasions. Now, the artwork is on exhibit for a week and a half and available for silent auction, which ends at the gala. This year’s gala will be on Thursday, May 3, at the Copley Society of Art on Newbury Street. Attendees register for bidding as they enter the tent in front of the gallery, and come in for cocktails and great deals on masterful paintings.
“It’s a fun party. Fresh Paint is a gem of the Boston art scene,” said Executive Director Suzan Redgate. “It’s one of a kind. This tradition has been going on for 30 years. And it’s only going to get better.”
Tickets for the Fresh Paint gala can be purchased online at freshpaint2018.eventbrite.com or by calling the Copley Society at 617-536-5049.