On the block for Plein Air

Laguna group holds its first spring art auction and fundraiser to support painting style's heritage in the city.

May 01, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Thomas Jefferson Kitts paints at the 2011 Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational QuickDraw event at Heisler Park below the Laguna Art Museum.
Thomas Jefferson Kitts paints at the 2011 Laguna Beach… (Courtesy Thomas…)

Thomas Jefferson Kitts is inspired by nature.

Also, given a choice, he prefers not to rely on memories, photographs or drawings.

The result? A prolific 30-year career as a plein air painter.

An avid follower of John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla and Anders Zorn, the Portland resident is driven by the challenges posed by this style of painting. He stands in agreement with Paul Cézanne's words: "Nature is the best instructor."

"It simply comes down to the fact that the world is more complex a place than anything I can make up in my head — I become lost in it as I paint," said Kitts, 52. "It's the closest I can come to God."

Kitts is one of 40 plein air painters who donated original work to the Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn. (LPAPA) for its first-ever spring art auction and fundraiser dubbed "Canvas for a Cause." Funds raised at the Woman's Club of Laguna Beach from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday will benefit the organization's operations and programs.


"Our purpose is to serve our artists and be the torch-bearer for the foundational plein air heritage of Laguna Beach," said LPAPA president Gregory Vail.

Alongside a wine and cheese reception, guests will be treated to a silent auction in which the minimum bid is $350 on artwork otherwise priced in excess of $2,500, according to Vail. Preparations began in earnest in December.

The need for funds is more than ever, he said, as LPAPA is on the verge of hosting the weeklong Laguna Beach Plein Air Invitational independent of the Laguna Art Museum, for which more than $200,000 is necessary.

Kitts, who, with the support of his grandmother, has been painting and drawing longer than he can remember, can't imagine a life without art, which he compares to a drug. He also clearly remembers starting out as a plein air artist in 1984 when knowledge about the craft was hard to come by, as were others with experience in the field.

"Today, plein air is everywhere — its popularity astounds me, but I remember a time when no one even knew what it meant," said Kitts, who venerates Southern California Impressionists William Wendt, Edgar Payne, Guy Rose and Franz Bischoff. "People used to ask me, 'You go out to paint? Really?'"

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