What originally started as a celebration of “plein air” painting has transformed into the Red Rock Arts Festival, starting Saturday, Oct. 2, a week-long gathering for artists and art-lovers put on by the Moab Arts and Recreation Center.
“We’re really excited because we’re doing all kinds of new things that we’ve never tried before,” said Liz Holland, executive director at the MARC—new events during this year’s festival will include a film screening of the 2020 film “The Painter and the Thief” and a community mosaic night on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
The Red Rock Arts Festival started in 2017 as a transformed version of the Plein Air Moab competition, which started in 2009. At its peak, the competition hosted more than 100 artists with 400 people in attendance. “Plein air” painting refers to painting that is done outdoors, which became popular in the early 19th century with the invention of tube paints and portable easels. Now, the term generally refers to landscape painting that is done outside.
Though the plein air competition is cancelled this year, the festival will still pay homage to its roots with a plein air watercolor workshop led by artist Carl Purcell.
This is Purcell’s first year leading a workshop at the festival—he lives in central Utah, and has been teaching plein air workshops in Zion for the last 25 years. He’s looking forward to coming to Moab because of the landscape’s beauty, he said.
“Frankly, I love rock canyons. I grew up near one in Arizona, that was my safe haven, I went all the time,” he said. “And I always thought, one day I’d like to paint the canyons.”
Purcell discovered his style of plein air painting while he was teaching college classes and led a series of summer workshops all over the West.
“It just grew,” Purcell said. “It was like planting something and suddenly it sprouts and takes off.”
The course will teach people “how to simplify the landscape into patterns of shapes that will produce stronger paintings,” according to the website. Workshop attendees have to bring their own supplies—to capture Moab in watercolor. His workshop will take place on Thursday, September 30 and Friday, October 1. Tickets are $250.
The other two workshops offered throughout the festival will be led by community members, and are free with materials provided. It was important to Holland to include community oriented workshops during the festival, she said.
The Natural Dye workshop on Sunday, Oct. 3 will be led by Abby Meyer, who works at Easy Bee Farm. She’s been growing dye pants throughout the summer, and will teach workshop attendees how to turn plants into dye.
The last workshop on Oct. 4 is a Figure Drawing workshop led by Molly Gurney, who works at Community Rebuilds and is an artist. Both workshops are by donation, but are free for people who can’t afford to donate.
“To be able to offer a few different free workshop opportunities for folks feels really exciting to me,” said Melisa Morgan, arts assistant at the MARC.
The annual chalk drawing competition will return for its third year on Saturday, October 2 in front of the Moab Information Center. Individuals or teams of up to five will have six hours to draw. The drawings will be judged by the public, then prizes will be awarded to the winners.
There will also be a poetry reading on Thursday, Oct. 7.
“As we were reworking our programming, we realized it would be really interesting to incorporate as many different mediums as we could,” said Morgan. “We’re trying to get as diverse as we can with what we’re doing with the festival this year.”
Works by Lewis Williams will be on display at the MARC throughout the festival as the October Art Installation. Williams’s work, called “Paint My Way ‘Cross the USA by Bike!” is done in the plein air style and encompasses his recent bike trip across the country. The trip took him six months as he and his wife biked from San Diego, California, on March 1 of this year. They reached Bar Harbor, Massachusetts, on Aug. 1.
The culmination of the festival is the Street Fest on Saturday, Oct. 9. There will be live music, a beer garden, food trucks, art for sale and art demos.
For more information and to register for workshops, go to www.redrockartsfestival.com.
What: Red Rock Arts Festival
When: Saturday, Oct. 2 through Oct. 9
Where: Various times and locations across Moab
For a full list of events and registration, go to www.redrockartsfestival.com