Two Salt Lake City plein air artists among 22 invited to 14th Annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art at Grand Canyon National Park

Two Salt Lake City artists will be among 22 selected for the 14th Annual Grand Canyon Celebration of Art at Grand Canyon National Park, which begins in September and continues through January 2023.

Michelle Condrat.

Michelle Condrat and Paula Swain will be among those invited to paint en plein air (outside on location) for a week at various spots of their own choosing that run along the South Rim in the national park. The works produced during this time will be shown along with studio-produced pieces at the historic Kolb Studio in an exhibition and sale, which extends through Jan. 16. 

The event, which is coordinated by Grand Canyon Conservancy, the nonprofit partner of the national park, includes an online silent auction featuring works chosen by the artists (which runs Sept. 2-17). Also, the artists will participate in a Sept. 16 “Paint Out” along the South Rim from Verkamp’s Visitor Center to Thunderbird Lodge in the national park, where visitors will have the opportunity to watch the artists at work. This event is open to the public, and the completed paintings will be available for purchase onsite. The online sales gallery featuring works from the Kolb Studio exhibition will be live, beginning Sept. 18.

Condrat, who has lived in Utah for nearly her entire life, earned art and art history degrees at The University of Utah. In capturing landscapes in Utah, the southwestern U.S. and the Grand Canyon, Condrat takes on a geometric-like style in her interpretations of the landscape, using intense colors and hues and sharp linear strokes that are blended. 

Michelle Condrat.

Condrat is no stranger to the Grand Canyon plein air invitational and she has participated in a similar event at Zion National Park. “Zion is an intimate canyon,” she says in an interview with The Utah Review, adding that she learned to figure out her best plein air strategy and being able to work quickly. “And, don’t chase the light,” she explains. She does her homework for finding the right spot before setting up on the day to begin composing the painting. She lays out the general composition on the first day and then spreads out filling in the details over the next several days. “It’s a longer event than others so there is no reason to feel super rushed,” she says. 

Condrat says she looks for good foregrounding elements such as foliage and trees. For layering effects to capture distance, she says the South Rim provides great opportunities for settings either at sunrise or sunset. Among artists she considers as influences and role models is Albert Bierstadt, the 19th century German-American artist who painted landscapes as he accompanied teams moving westward and was schooled in the unique lighting effect technique called luminism. Another is John Singer Sargent, another artist who worked in the late 19th century and who moved from portraiture to murals and working en plein air. And, as for working quickly, she enjoyed watching Bob Ross, whose half-hour segments on his PBS series The Joy of Painting were popular.

Paula Swain.

Swain’s interests in painting started during her childhood days in Seattle. Her father had a master of fine arts degree and her mother taught art at the elementary school level and was a drafter for Boeing. On weekends, rain or shine, a family outing often involved plein air painting in areas surrounding Seattle. In an interview with The Utah Review. Swain says she “loves being out in the open and finds it more comfortable to paint than in the studio.” She remembers vacations along the Oregon coast as well as in southern Utah where the family painted en plein air. Nearly twenty years ago, she augmented the experience she had gained from her father by attending workshops to hone her technique as her own vehicle of creative expression. The richness of colors and textures is important to Swain, who remembers what it was like to paint on gray, drizzly and cloudy days. On her website, she characterizes her style as “sometimes fauvism” or “semi-representational expressionism.” 

It is notable to see how the plein air invitational represents different styles for creating a broad spectrum of artists interpreting the immense Grand Canyon landscapes. Condrat has sharp lines and intense hues while Swain’s brush strokes are akin to pointillism or the color technique of a post-Impressionist painter such as Paul Cézanne, who would use chunks of color to capture shapes the painter would see as if they were squinting. 

Paula Swain.

Swain enjoys being outdoors for painting either early in the morning just as the sun rises or later in the evening. And, she does not mind working in all kinds of weather, which offers the opportunity for visually exciting last minute decisions. This includes painting storms in the Grand Canyon where lightning strikes might reach across the breadth of the canyon. To avoid becoming a casualty of lightning, she would place her easel above the steering wheel in her vehicle to record the stormy moment in paint.

“My dad was a very good teacher,” she recalls. “One of my first memories of painting was with a kid’s watercolor set and we were painting trees at Puget Sound. I loaded my paintbrush with magenta and he said, ‘where in this landscape do you see this bright magenta?’ He said we could not exaggerate color.”

Both artists have extensive gallery representation in Utah as well as surrounding states. For more information about the Grand Canyon Conservancy and the event later this year, visit the website

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