Artists can’t confine creative expression, even within the edges of a canvas.
On Friday, a dozen artists packed into a narrow space to create one mural, but each added their own interpretation of the same photograph of Missoula’s landscape. The collaborative work was part of the Dana Gallery’s 10th annual Plein Air Paint Out event this weekend in Missoula.
Almost as soon as gallery owner Dudley Dana told the artists they could expand past the borders of the white sheet of paper, Robert Moore, an acclaimed oil painter from Idaho, made large blue strokes onto the gallery wall, making Montana’s big sky a little bigger.
It was the first time the gallery organized a collaborative mural as part of the Paint Out events. It was First Friday and one more way to expose the public to artists in the process of creation.
The Paint Out is designed to introduce Missoula residents to artists and their work, but also to let them see the mental and creative processes that go into a piece of art. Twenty artists from six states are taking part in the event, about two-thirds of whom have taken part in the Paint Out before.
On Friday night’s collaborative mural, artists used a mix of approaches: watercolor, acrylic, oil paint and chalk.
Shortly after arriving at the gallery, the group quickly agreed on a photograph that Dana shot of the Missoula Valley from the South Hills. It had a large blue sky, which everyone agreed was symbolic of Big Sky Country. They divided the sheet of paper into eight columns. Each artist was responsible for creating a different section of the photograph.
“It’s exciting to me,” said assistant curator Clay Pape. “It’s a fun new thing to try. I’m excited to see the finished product.”
Each artist painted at different speeds and used different techniques. Yet, each had to pay attention to the person next to them to connect with their lines. For some, it was their first time working on a collaborative mural with other artists.
The mural wasn’t the only public art event planned for the Paint Out. On Saturday, the painters will set up their canvases in downtown Missoula beginning around 9:30 a.m. Some will paint the farmers market while others will be in Caras Park to capture the Missoula Marathon Expo.
In the next two days, Dana hopes that each painter will choose to capture at least one scene that symbolizes the Missoula Marathon and running.
The gallery scheduled the Paint Out on the same weekend as the marathon to add to the excitement of the race and to show the thousands of runners converging on the Garden City that Missoula has a rich and thriving art community.
Dave Mensing has attended the gallery’s Paint Out event for at least the past five years. The impressionist painter from south-central Idaho often paints landscapes, so he is especially fond of western Montana’s scenery.
As part of the Paint Out, the artists will travel to Ovando to paint and stay with area ranchers for two days.
During the drive to the small town, “I see paintings in every direction I look,” he said.
There are two criteria for picking artists, Dana said. They need to be exceptional artists and good people.
The artists range in age from 25 to 60 years old.
While some of the artists are veterans to the program, Margie Grinnell is attending for the first time.
The Minnesota resident has traveled to Missoula on and off for the past decade visiting her daughter, who attended the University of Montana and now lives here full-time.
“A trip wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Dana Gallery,” she said.
During that time, she became friends with the owners and has taken painting workshops hosted by the gallery before.
She’s looking forward to connecting with amazing artists. “It’s always unbelievable being with so many people in such a creative atmosphere,” she said.
The artists took about two hours on Friday to finish the mural, which will hang in the Dana Gallery until Wednesday.