En plein air painter inspires North Salem residents to be more present
Among the rush of day, it is easy to overlook the beauty that surrounds us. That is until you are fortunate enough to pass local plein air artist Chrissanth Greene-Gross, with her bike resting against a fence rail and easel supporting her latest painting. Her mere presence along the road invites passersby to pause for a moment and connect to the landscape she is immersing herself in.
En plein air, the practice of painting outdoors inspired by French Impressionists, allows artists to take time to connect to all the ephemeral elements in play. “The beauty can be overwhelming,” Greene-Gross states. Subtle changes of light as clouds pass overhead, a bird fluttering by, a breeze cajoling the branches to sway, or a passing shower builds areas of interest that can all be gathered onto the canvas. The product becomes more of a collective capture than a snapshot of a moment. Differing from her lifelong practice of illustration and portrait art, plein air painting “shows the drama,” says Greene-Gross. She has developed an adoration for motion as landscapes invite the artist to become more present to the energy, movement, and light that lives within the active scene.
Her oil-painted landscapes skillfully capture the beauty of North Salem’s rural spaces, depicting scenes of stone walls lining dirt roads, barns settling among lush pastures, trees standing proud among open fields but what elevates her work is her passion for the natural world, which brings a deeper level of intimacy to the finished product. Each piece is a practice of devotion, a professed “thank you note to God,” as she connects with the living space in front of her.
Priding herself on her ability to be more present through this art form, Greene-Gross muses that it is not always so easy to do. One of her most “humbling experiences” occurred when a bird began screaming at her from the nearby thrush as she painted. She continually shushed the assaulting bird until she realized that she had set up her easel just steps away from a baby bird. “Here I am connecting to nature,” she recalls, “and I realized that in my focus, I overlooked something directly underfoot.”
On a typical day, the artist will load up her bicycle with her easel and painting materials to ride over to some of her favorite spots; Baxter Road, Vails Lane, and the big sky by Hayfields-on-Keeler. She particularly loves to visit the old barn on Mills Road which is the final of four barns left standing. “You never know when your last visit will be,” she reflects on the urgency of this practice. The artist has favored spots in town, but she is always receptive to finding new locations and featuring seasonal items. “Sacred space is everywhere when you just stop, show up, and paint,” professes Greene-Gross.
Delighted when visitors pass, she welcomes the opportunity to chat while she paints. Outdoor studio time breaks up the solitude that can accompany indoor work and Greene-Gross enjoys meeting with others to share their love of North Salem. Plein air painting gave her much needed connection during the pandemic to visit safely with others outdoors as well. She hopes that her roadside presence not only builds a stronger relationship with the natural world for herself but for others as well; encouraging them to become more present in their lives, build a deeper connection with the earth, and be inspired to take better care of it.
Greene-Gross’ collection of paintings titled “Plein Air Harvest 2022” celebrates the bounty she was able to capture. “At the end of the year, it’s like having a harvest,“ she describes. “Like farm to table; easel to wall. These pieces reflect what I have caught in my net this year.” The paintings will be displayed at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library from December 1-30. A reception is available to all on Sunday, December 4 from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. It offers a wonderful opportunity to meet with the artist and speak about the pieces she produced throughout the year. She hopes her collection will evoke the urgency of being present in our lives. “I like to think that my own presence on the roadside can inspire and uplift a community.”
Paintings, prints on canvas, notecards, and requests for commissions can all be found on her website: Chrissanth.com. You can sign up for her newsletter to stay connected to her ongoing work and reflections.