Michael Britton paints along the Mekong River in Laos.

Canadian artist Michael Britton wrote a firsthand account of his painting adventures in Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos for our digital edition. We excerpt the story here.


“Dong Hoi Vietnam,” 2013, oil on paper, 9 4/5 x 7 4/5 in. Collection the artist

Painting on the sharp edges of the world is a compulsion of mine, but I justify it by pointing out that my experiences in remote, harsh, and threatening conditions allow me to paint powerfully haunting images. I’ve been passionate about painting in wilderness areas ever since I was an adolescent growing up in Canada. I was entranced by the small works of Tom Thomson (1877-1917), a member of the Group of Seven plein air painters who tramped through Algonquin Park in the early 1900s. I would often skip classes to wander through the galleries of the National Gallery of Canada, always ending up in the Thomson room.


“Pai Shack No. 1,” 2013, oil on paper, 8 9/10 x 9 1/10 in. Collection the artist

As I write this, I am quite far up a small tributary of the Mekong River in Laos, in a small village (I don’t even know its name) that is accessible only by boat. Inexplicably, the village has a decent Internet connection and the locals watch YouTube videos in bamboo huts that lack indoor plumbing. It is a curious world in which we live.


“Sapa Vietnam Hmong Hut,” 2013, oil on paper, 8 9/10 x 9 1/10 in. Collection the artist

My painting sessions are limited to no more than three hours because taking any longer would invite the risk of heat exhaustion, which could knock me down for three to four days. Despite all the difficulties, I must paint from life because photographs only describe the there, whereas plein air paintings engage the is.


Britton and the Mekong River

To read the rest of Britton’s account, get access to the digital edition of PleinAir magazine’s August/September 2013 issue.


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