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Painting in paradise: Celebration of Art gives artists audience at Grand Canyon

Jose Luis Nunez paints on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim during the Grand Canyon Conservancy’s Celebration of Art Sept. 2-17. (Evelin Mercedes/WGCN)

Jose Luis Nunez paints on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim during the Grand Canyon Conservancy’s Celebration of Art Sept. 2-17. (Evelin Mercedes/WGCN)

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — The Grand Canyon Conservancy concluded its annual Celebration of Arts events showcasing their “en plein air” artists to national park guests Sept. 2 — Sept. 17.

Artists from all over the world were invited for an exclusive chance to paint the Grand Canyon through their own perspective for a week, while capturing the simplicities and beauties of the canyon.

“En plein art,” meaning “in the open air” allows for freedom of expression unique to the artists’ observations, experiences in life, and interpretations of the world surrounding them. From the ever-changing colors of summer slowly transforming into fall, intricate layers seen from the top of the South Rim to the hidden depths portrayed in the dark and light hues of the sunrises mingling together, each artist brought their impressions of the national park to life.

“Art will either depress you or inspire you,” Jose Luis Nunez said as he began to paint the clear blue skies on the Hermit’s Rest trail.

Nunez is one of the participating artists who decided to leave his successful career to pursue art full time. His desire to abstractly paint the light and shades intertwining within the full-fledged depths of the canyon inspired this position by the South Rim. The light rain droplets that morning didn’t deter him from the idea of showcasing how dramatically beautiful light and shade can transform a setting.

The Artists’ Choice Award, presented by Plein Air Magazine, landed in a tie this year. “The Nature of Things” by Bill Cramer tied with “Morning Castles on the Colorado River” by John Cogan. The award demonstrates the participating artist’s effort, skill and creativity combined with the spirit of the entire Celebration of Arts event for 2022.

Becoming an artist was the first thing Susie Hyer thought of doing from the moment she started drawing a pair of ceramic flamingos in her home at the age of 4.

Years of mastery through classes, programs and personal projects have developed a knack in Hyer to search for the deemed impossible and create them into fascinating pieces of artwork resembling the exact location she’s painting.

It’s not the most obscure scene finding her in the middle of a heatwave on a Denver sidewalk, painting knee-deep in the middle of the snow or in the middle of the night with a headlamp lighting the path of the yet appreciated setting she’s about to recreate.

Known as an adventurous “lets-do-it” kind of artist, she said, “I can always set up some kind of challenge for myself, something I want to explore with painting.”

Being chosen in this year’s Celebration of Art is the kind of challenge that stands out to this award winning artist and any one who witnesses her in action. Hyers purposefully stood beside the El Tovar entrance during the Artists Paint Out from Verkamp’s Visitor Center Sept. 16, distinguishing the yellow flowers from the large green trees and brown silhouette of the lodge.

“Take whatever you have in front of you and do something with it,” Hyer said.

This week, Hyer focused intently on creating a balance between what is visible and what would be more appealing to the guests. The challenge as with any en plein air artist was using environment to challenge their imagination and skill sets. Multiple days of rain weren’t the most glamorous for them but these kinds of days were the type that stretched them as an artist.

At almost 70 years old, there is still a lot more growth to undergo and opportunities to paint in places where life hasn’t taken her yet, including Italy and France.

En plein air, also recognized as “painting on location from life,” means to Hyer being transported from the exact location you’re in into an orchestra of paintbrushes, swirls of paint and imagination splattered across the empty canvas than being directly stuck on recreating the one setting. Also, going to the Desert View Watchtower and seeing the light produce shadows that can be challenged into nocturne pieces of art instead of its traditional viewpoint.

“As an artist, I feel really pleased that I can do something that supports and gives back to the Grand Canyon community,” Hyer said as she discussed the opportunity to take what is visibly there in front of someone and turn it into an appealing version based on her imagination while also recognizing the proceeds of her paintings will benefit the future of the park, artists and guests who visit.

An art exhibition and sale of the artists’ creations is available online and at the Kolb studio until Jan. 16, 2023.

Proceeds from the sale will go toward a fund establishing a dedicated art venue and arts programming at the South Rim.

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