The Art of Listening–Plein Air

By Dawn M. Aerts

Iron County Today

Mary Jabens finds a special joy in Plein Air painting using different mediums, subjects and places while working beside artists who, she says, provide her with artistic and personal inspiration.

As a painter, she describes her work as contemporary impressionism, using broad brush strokes, vivid colors and splashes of light with minimal detail. And since moving to Utah, she has found a lifetime of subjects as an artist who ‘listens’ to what should or should not be included in her work.

“The paintings I love most, often ‘choose me,” said Jabens, “Whether it’s a color, shape, or subject my inner muse stops me and says, ‘paint this’ but my goal is to communicate the joy I see all around me.” She is an artist who turns to the canvas as an outlet for hope and renewal against the uncertainty of any given day.

Her interest, as with many painters, began with a ‘big box’ of crayons.’

“We weren’t rich by any means. But my mother could see that I had a love of art, so she signed me up for painting lessons when I was 12, and this was something that kept me busy and content.” While Plein Air is the method she prefers using to see true colors, light, and shadow, she also spends time in-studio work.

“I would say that I do my best painting outside. Photos can and do lie. But time is very limited with the outdoors, oils can be perilous, and you may only have a two-hour window to capture those colors, or that light.”

Jabens doesn’t use small brushes or include minutia on canvas, instead she works in big strokes, vivid colors, and bold shadows that complement her work. Over the years, she has dabbled in jewelry, clay, and tole-painting, but admits that oil painting is what fulfills her best: that’s using a combination of colors, shapes, and values that grab her attention. “I would say that I have been on a long journey with art, sharing my interests along the way with painters and friends who still live in Montana or Nevada, and now, the tribe I belong to in Southern Utah.”

In one of her latest works titled “Snow Patches,” Jabens uses a daring combination of snow colors, along with red rocks, and purple shadows that she describes as an ‘assault of happiness’ in art. “I absolutely love snow, I love to look at snow, and of course, in my work, I want who ever sees my painting, to step into exactly what I see – to feel the present there.”

Over the past several years, Jabens has moved into other subjects, from still-life work that she describes as ‘fun’ with composition and perspectives, to spending time with nocturnal pieces, or photography, but stepping away from portraits or abstract work. Like many artists, she would like people to ‘step into’ the moment and see what she sees.

Her work, “Snow Patches,” earned her ‘2018 Best of Show’ in the Women Artists of the West, online spring Exhibit. And she credits artistic mentors and friends that have encouraged her work and helped to further her ability.

“The artistic influences in my life are always present,” said Jabens, “Artists like Thomas Moran, John Singer Sargent, Edgar Payne and more recently, Tibor Nagy and Mark Boedges stand out in time.”

While Jabens describes herself as a self-taught artist who has pursued numerous workshops over the past 20 plus years with painters like Brad Holt, Kathryn Stats and Lori Putnam, she also gives credit to the many artist-friends she paints next to.

“There were so many people who stepped into my life, as an artist, and they all share their own individual talent with me, so it’s been a big part of the life-long learning process.”

When Jabens is not working on her next project, situated out in an open field with a canvas, easel and brushes (blowing in the wind) she enjoys simple things like reading a good book, or the sport of fly-fishing – a pastime that her husband had a passion for.

“I feel such a love for the land here,” said Jabens as she looks outside a window, “It’s really the only planet we have. It’s amazing! So I use the rich colors, textures and oils that make you want to reach out and touch it. And the paintings I love, choose me.”


Caption: Mary Jabens is a contemporary-impressionist painter who focuses on natural elements and landscapes working in oils, Plein Air. She is a member of the Kolob Society, Plein Air Painters of Utah and the Southern Utah Watercolor Association (SUWA). Her work is on exhibit at The Artisans Gallery (Cedar City); and LaFave Gallery, (Springdale) and was featured in the Zion Plein Air Invitational (2016); the Cedar Breaks Arts Afire Invitational (2016) earning her the People’s Choice Award and Superintendents Award among others.

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