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Jean K. Stephens

Jean K. Stephens
Early Morning, Cannen Road, oil on canvas

To many people, painting en plein air means, quite simply, painting out of doors. Properly conceived, however, the concept of plein air painting invokes considerably more than this. It connotes particular stylistic attributes and compositional constraints which must be observed whether the work is completed out of doors or in the studio. Plein air painting might be thought a stylistic sub-genre much in the way we think of “geometrical abstraction” or “color field painting.”

The sophisticated compositions of artist Jean K. Stephens exemplify many of the critical tenets of plein air painting. Virtually every facet of Stephens’ landscape art speaks of temporality. The locus of the light in her work is clearly established, and shadows operate almost as sundials, telling us time of day. Her bold use of color likewise leaves little doubt concerning the season depicted. For many of her paintings, we sense that we could locate the day and the hour on a calendar with fair accuracy. Stephens’ landscapes too are carefully understated; they have none of the compositional drama which often characterizes studio productions. Her scenes are what we would typically see coming out of a path through the woods or walking over a rise. Though finely balanced, her compositions seem nonetheless “found” rather than “created.” They are the fine art of artlessness.

Jean K. Stephens
Spring Trees, oil on board

But the finest productions in the plein air style speak, and speak deliberately, to the constraints imposed upon the plein air painter, and Jean K. Stephens’ landscapes are no exception. In Stephens’ work, definition gives way to compositional clarity, endowing the work, at times, with a somewhat abstract character. Eschewing the subtle tonal shifts possible only in the studio, the artist keeps transitions relatively abrupt, with color contrasts supporting the placement of well defined masses. Even the finishing work performed in the studio never betrays our sense that the paint has been laid down “in the wet.” Each stroke of the loaded brush asserts itself as having been deftly placed to give maximum definition and to capture the momentary light.

Jean K. Stephens
Stormy Sky, oil on canvas

Whatever the conditions under which the work was actually created, a fine landscape en plein air must convey a seeming haste of execution. The charm of Jean Stephens’ landscapes lies precisely in their communicating a sense of urgency to take in the moment before it vanishes. And we respond with a shared enthusiasm.

Jean works in a variety of media, including oil, pastel, and colored pencil. She has exhibited and lectured extensively throughout central and western New York, and she was the subject of a feature article in American Artist in April, 2005. Jean and her husband Bill, also an artist, live in Honeoye Falls, New York.



Jean K. Stephens
In and Out, oil on panel
Jean K. Stephens
Endearment, colored pencil on paper


Jean K. Stephens
Townline Road

Jean K. Stephens
Question of Faith, oil on panel


Jean K. Stephens
Powerhouse, colored pencil on paper


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