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Justin Vining's dramatic change in style on display at annual Harrison solo show

"I think I accidentally turned into a plein air painter"

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Justin Vining paced back and forth in his Harrison studio mid-January. He was anxious to pack up his brushes, oils and masonite boards to go outside and paint. In fact, that's pretty much all he's done for the last year ­— and he doesn't plan on slowing down.

The Indianapolis artist built his personal brand on whimsical color. Anyone of his paintings ­— made before 2016 — are filled with stark hues and rolling landscapes with a storybook air to them. Now, most of his work is studies en plein air. Hence the title of his 2017 solo show at the Harrison Center for the Arts is Outside.


Around this time last year, Vining challenged himself to paint outside a little more.

"Painting from observation is a good fundamental way to hone your skills," he says. "Slowly, I have become really addicted to it."

What started as a one-month commitment to setting up an easel outside and painting whatever he saw, became his daily norm. Now it's not uncommon to see Vining, Benny Sanders and a slew of other local artists set up in urban spaces working as quickly as they can.

"It's been fun going to, not necessarily non-traditional venues because some of these paintings are super traditional," says Vining. "But we are just going to spots around the city that, if it was just me, I would have never found or known they existed."

Those new settings are challenging him in a way he never expected. If you chatted with him six months ago, you would have heard a very clear concept for his March show. It was going to be a blending of his old and new styles in the same frame. Now, most of what you see will be strictly plein air.

"It's a little bit of a problem," says Vining. "I can't stop painting outside."

There's a noticeable difference between his plein air work even two months ago to now. The lines are cleaner, the depth is stronger and there is a distinct sense of place that didn't exist before. We spoke with him about his dramatic shift and where his work is headed.

Emily Taylor: You mentioned that you had a clearer vision of your work six months ago. Where do you feel like you are now compared to then?

Justin Vining: I think I accidentally turned into a plein air painter... If I learned anything about just living, never say never. The world works in mysterious ways. Just because I am doing this now doesn't mean I won't be doing something else in the future. At least right now this is where my motivation is.

I really enjoy the results, I don't enjoy the process... It's more important [now] to be in the moment with my painting. It's a lot less about the final product and it's more about being in the moment. When you are painting from observation, nothing is predetermined.

Emily: Are you nervous about what kind of reactions you are going to get from people because the styles are so different?

Justin: I don't think, I don't know... I kind of don't care what people think. I do think there is also that business aspect — this is how I make my living. ... Artists who go to art school, who are classically trained or traditionally trained, I feel like they almost start at center and then they go way out left or right. They try and get away from center. And what's been interesting is I have started my career way out from center, and I what I have been doing, I have almost gone straight to the middle.

What scares me is not necessarily people's reaction to my work, it scares me to go closer to the center a little bit. Can I sustain this living? I can I have been selling the crap out of them. I had — not a path of lesser resistance, but more of an identity. I am discovering as I enjoy this more and more and more, I do have some level of fear of is [my old style] lost? Am I at the point in my career where I am leaving that behind? To me that's what's scary. It's weird to maybe forge a path then potentially abandon it.

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