DaGroup en plein air

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, a dozen friends descended upon Jerrold Turner’s home in Benicia with food, drink, cake, and humorous gifts. Not surprisingly, most of the circle of attendees were past or present members of DaGroup, plein air artists that have been painting together for many years, providing an opportunity to reminisce. Founded in the early 2000s by Jerrold Turner, DaGroup started as a small, informal group and grew to over 200 Bay Area painters by 2010. Sue Wilson, unofficial organizer for much of the group’s activities, maintains a website, www.Pleinairlinks.com, where a schedule for the weekly Sunday paint outs and photos from recent and not-so-recent outings can be found.

All levels of painters have always been welcomed into DaGroup.

Members meet in the morning at the appointed site, paint during the day, and sometimes gather in mid-afternoon to share the results, offer friendly critiques, and even share food. East Bay locations — Mt. Diablo, Mare Island, Benicia — are common, but the group also travels to Marin, the Delta, the Central Valley, China Camp, and the coast. In past years, multi-day trips have been organized to the Sierra, Virginia City, Whidbey Island, and the Russian River. 

The group has exhibited their work in various locales, recalled long-time member Dixie Mohan. “We had shows at the Mare Island Flyway Festival and in China Camp, and set up booths at Open Studios in Benicia. Then in 2009, a group of us showed together in a storefront on First Street for the holidays. It worked so well that we formed a permanent plein air art gallery that thrives today — Benicia Plein Air Gallery.” DaGroup also presented exhibitions of their work at the Benicia Public Library, at Benicia City Hall through Arts Benicia Presents, and at other regional art shows.

Attila Cziglenyi painting, Napa Marina

Attila Cziglenyi, “Napa Marina”

To paint “en plein air,” a French term meaning “outdoors,” is to paint outdoors.

Jerrold Turner painting, DaGroup

Jerrold Turner, “DaGroup”

The style became popular in the early 1800s, when paint became available in tubes, and was therefore portable. It was especially popular among impressionist painters who were interested in capturing natural light and other changing aspects of the environment. DaGroup members expressed a number of reasons why they have been drawn to plein air work. For Mohan, it was “discovering places in the Bay Area that I had no idea existed, sitting for a few hours in a beautiful place and painting beside other painters.” Wilson, a hiker, loved being outdoors. “Plein air painting kept me there longer; seeing the outdoors with colorful painter’s eyes.” 

The challenge of painting outdoors includes transporting one’s supplies to the painting spot and dealing with weather conditions.

The strength and direction of sunlight changes over time, shadows appear or disappear, and colors vary. A hot day means finding shade or bringing an umbrella, while wind may topple an easel or blow debris into wet paint. Forgetting an important item means improvising.

In a recent book published by Wilson, DaGroup: Benicia Plein Air Painters, 26 painters from the group recalled paint-outs, funny stories, the influence of another painter or mentor, and the friendships that have deepened over the years. The idea for the book came from Turner, who thought it would be valuable to document the history and impact of the group on Benicia’s community. The book includes individual stories, photos, and paintings of past and current painters, revealing a dedication to creativity, a love of the outdoors, and camaraderie.

Many artists were drawn to work beside Jerry Turner and Nikki Basch-Davis, both of whom mentored emerging artists.

Turner’s roots in plein air included painting with renowned “Society of Six” painter Louis Siegriest and his son Lundy Siegriest. Basch-Davis also painted with the younger Siegriest. Attila Cziglenyi, who joined the group in 2012, heard about Turner’s artistry and teaching. “I was always looking forward to his and everybody else’s critiques after the paint-outs. It made me a better artist.”

Iris Sabre Painting en plein air

Iris Sabre Painting

Gregory Vasgerdsian painting, Across The Strait

Gregory Vasgerdsian, “Across The Strait”

Kathleen Gadway painting, Blake Gardens, Berkeley

Kathleen Gadway, “Blake Gardens, Berkeley”

Wilson shared, “my favorite painting tip from both Jerry and Nikki was, ‘let the scene inspire you, but don’t let it capture you. At some point get away from it and go into the painting … let it tell you where to take it.’ It told me that attempts to exactly copy nature’s beauties are not as powerful as capturing its inspiration and essence.”

Joanne Uomini described the group’s “air of self-expression without any judgment as a perfect recipe for learning and experimentation.” For Loralee Chapleau, the group “provided companionship, tutelage, adventures, and laughter beyond my ability to reckon. We weren’t just an association of people in pursuit of artistic endeavors, we were a family.” 

For more information, visit www.pleinairlinks.com. DaGroup: Benicia Plein Air Painters (2023) is available at blurb.com