When Plain Air Becomes "Plein Air"

by Bella Erakko

Immediacy and air, intermixed with watercolor, gouache, or oil paints in the hands of an artist can open wonderful vistas to those of us drawn to nature. Meet Dennis Babbitt, the newest member of the Alliance Art Gallery, and featured artist for Second Saturday, January 12th.

From childhood on, Dennis found himself doodling, drawing, putting things together. Although his parents followed more traditional pastimes such as golfing and gardening, Babbitt never gave up his personal attraction to art, garnering a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in print making.

“I kept a pencil in my hand. In my late 30s, I started doing a little more, and in my 40s, I really got into it.” Perhaps better put, he got OUTside “into it.” He walked out the door, watercolors, gouache, and oils In hand—and for the most part, has stayed outside.

Painting ourdoors, plein air painting, brings a certain immediacy, an aliveness, into his works. There is a softness to the watercolors, a warmth to his gouache and oils, that draws the viewer into the scene. “I love shadows on roads,” Babbitt explains. “I love trees because of the different compositions you can get. If you look at light on trees or roads, it becomes very abstract. You are looking at shapes and then working from that.”

So what about cold weather? Plein air in snow storms, bitter cold, windy mind-numbing days? “No,” Dennis cheerily admits, “If it’s that cold, I stay inside.”

But sometimes nature and artist become intimately interconnected. One morning in Scotland, Dennis ventured forth at about 4:00 A.M. He wanted to paint early dawn breaking into day. Unfortunately for him, swarms of “midges”—a miniature version of our northern man-eating black flies—also loved the dawn. “They bit the heck out of me,” he laughs. As they swarmed and bit Dennis, several of them (no doubt art connoisseurs) got stuck in the wet paint of his canvas. And there they remained, au natural, beneath his final coats of varnish.

As Dennis gradually retires from active ownership of a hobby store in St. Charles, he and his wife plan to increase their plein-air traveling days, looking forward to New England, the Northwest, and more trips to his ancestral home, Scotland. In the meantime, Babbitt invites us into his plein air in the comfort of heated air. ~ ~ ~ An opening reception will be held Saturday, January 12, from 5:00 until 8:00 pm. A piece of Dennis’ work will be given away in a free drawing held at 6:00. This reception coincides with Hannibal’s Second Saturday Gallery Night.

Babbitt Fall Afternoon Sun fish Lake 1-1 (1).jpg