Anthony M. Cairo painting en plein air
Anthony M. Cairo painting en plein air

Be inspired by Kelly Kane’s spotlight on the up-and-coming plein air painter Anthony M. Cairo, who shares his Aha moment, and much more. 

Art education: I was fortunate to have a supportive family and creative mentors throughout my life who made me believe a career in the arts was possible. I went to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids for my BFA, and shortly after graduating in 2015 I took on a decorative painting apprenticeship at the Michigan State Capitol Building. There I learned traditional painting techniques under my mentor, Joshua Risner. I’ve also watched online painting tutorials by Mark Boedges, Jeremy Lipking, and Marc Dalessio, which have influenced my understanding of painting as well.

Anthony M. Cairo, "Summer Glow," 2023, oil, 11 x 14 in., private collection, plein air and studio
Anthony M. Cairo, “Summer Glow,” 2023, oil, 11 x 14 in., private collection, plein air and studio

Favorite subjects: I value the miraculous and complex color harmonies observed in nature. I choose subjects that inspire me through their lyrical depth in color and atmosphere. This approach helps me to think more abstractly about what I’m painting and why I’m painting, and forces me to try new things.

Aha moment: One that stands out to me the most is when I realized that originality in style is simply staying true to the way you perceive the world through your process. If you do that with love and excitement, your work will inspire you to keep moving forward. I paint many of the same scenes in different light conditions and seasons, and they always feel new.

Anthony M. Cairo, "Solace in Crimson," 2023, oil, 12 x 9 in., available from artist, plein air and studio
Anthony M. Cairo, “Solace in Crimson,” 2023, oil, 12 x 9 in., available from artist, plein air and studio

What I would do for a living if I wasn’t an artist: My dream career was to be an Olympic marathon runner. I ran competitively in middle school and high school, but never reached the level of excellence required to go further. I still run long-distance races for fun and greatly admire the men and women who participate in marathons professionally.

Favorite artists: I’ve been inspired to paint outdoors ever since I saw an exhibition of the plein air works of Frederic Edwin Church [1826–1900] and Claude Monet [1840–1926] at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2017. That changed my artistic direction completely. But the Glasgow Boys [1880–1890] and Camille Corot [1796–1875] have had the greatest influence on my work. From studying their paintings, I learned the importance of composition for capturing the entirety of a landscape and the breathtaking qualities abstract mark-making can produce in realist art.

Anthony M. Cairo's setup for "The Northface on Merced Lake"
Anthony M. Cairo’s setup for “The Northface on Merced Lake”

The advice I wish I had received earlier in my painting career: When I was in college there was a tremendous push for art students to create work with deep, conceptual meaning. But creating cohesive artwork that is meaningful does not necessarily mean there is a clear or obvious message. The point is to paint what moves you in a way that feels natural to the best of your abilities. The message of your work will blossom into something greater from there.

What’s next: I’m preparing for my first solo show, opening July 9th, 2024 at the Shiawassee Arts Center, a local, nonprofit gallery I’ve been working with in Owosso, Michigan. The theme of the show is small paintings of butterflies and flowers in outdoor lighting, with a majority of the works available for under $1,000. I also will be participating as a professional artist in the Paint Dexter Plein Air Festival this August. It will be my first regional plein air competition.

Price range: $400-$1,000 for 8 x 10-inch to 11 x 14-inch plein air paintings; $1,000-$5,000 for 12 x 16-inch to 36 x 48-inch studio works


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