Drawing Outside at Freshkills Park with Fastnet

This spring, students from Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School are visiting Freshkills Park for outdoor observational drawing workshops in Fastnet, a shipping container converted into a studio and project space. Artist James Powers purchased Fastnet in the fall of 2015. Here he reflects on “the thrill of drawing outside” and how he learned to think of the landscape “as an extension of the studio.” The inaugural program was designed and executed in collaboration with artist Rita Leduc.

It is exciting to see the Plein-Air workshops at Freshkills underway. The broad objectives of the project are to create a visual awareness of the landscape through observational drawing, and by using the Freshkills site itself, to spark a discussion about our position within the larger metropolitan ecosystem.

Personally, I really want to share with students the thrill of drawing outside – the initial discomfort followed by the great satisfaction from the rough, direct mark-making imparted by the wild or built landscape. My father and my high school art teacher begged me to go outside and draw — but it was my college painting professor, Nancy Mitchnick, who physically shoveled me out into the elements (“you paint, you schlep!”).

Nancy’s exuberance and view of the landscape as an extension of the studio transformed my framework about how to make art, which from then on mostly precluded the pastoral and small. Towards the end of the semester, Nancy would rent a moving truck at dawn and stuff it with easels, large primed canvases and plastic bins of paint. By mid-morning we were mixing palettes in a quarry in Gloucester. The class, and whoever else tagged along, would have a marathon session painting till dusk. Nancy tried to give every student this opportunity once a semester.

Purchasing the container, Fastnet, in 2015 was a natural continuation of this outdoor ambition. Turning it into a drawing studio at Freshkills was a direct reinstallation of Nancy’s practice.  While we do have shelter and heat within the container at Freshkills, Nancy, a Detroit native, is likely unimpressed with such frivolous amenities.

Written by James Powers, whose work is currently on view at La Mama Galleria. Fastnet will be at Freshkills Park through the spring and summer. This project is made possible (in part) by a DCA Art Fund Grant from Staten Island Arts, with public funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; and ConEdison.

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