A tribute from Allison Eklund, Events Director of the Outdoor Painters of Minnesota
I have sad news: Brian Stewart has passed away suddenly after a short illness that escalated quickly. Many of our Outdoors Painters of Minnesota members were his friends, and many of us learned from and admired him. For those of you who are less familiar with him or his work, here is a short memorial tribute.
Brian Stewart was one of the founders of the modern plein air movement and early members of the Plein Air Painters of America. In presentations over the years, he described finding a passion for plein air painting at a crossroads in his life. Leaving a successful career in advertising, he had a major health scare and began a 12-step program for recovery from alcoholism in his 40s. He studied painting with a student of Richard Lack and took a workshop with Clyde Aspevig before heading to Germany with a love interest to study European painting techniques. When he returned, he focused his attention on learning the twin loves of his live: painting and playing the banjo.
In 1989, he began painting all across America on road trips in full immersion of outdoor painting. He painted on Catalina Island shortly after Denise Burns came up with the idea to mount annual exhibits of plein air paintings at the Catalina Island Casino by a group she decided to call the Plein Air Painters of America. He was a good friend of Kevin Macpherson, also an early PAPA member, and Brian painted and showed with the group on return trips to Catalina for 25 years, 1990-2015.
In recent years he called himself semi-retired, enjoying time spent playing old-time music with his friend and fellow painter-musician Dan Mackerman. But he continued to paint and exhibit, painting for Andy Evansen’s fundraiser for the Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council, mounting an exhibit last year at the Phipps, and winning an award for his holiday painting of Santa playing the banjo. A painting of Brian’s is on display now at the Phipps for its Heart of the River River exhibit.
Brian lived in the Como Park neighborhood of St Paul. He taught at The Atelier, and offered an excellent “Indoor Plein Air” workshop some of us attended in 2017. Streamline Publishing, which publishes Plein Air Magazine, produced several of his popular painting instruction videos. Here is a 2016 article about him and the autobiographical book he published in 2016: An Artist’s Journey… Via Catalina.
How terribly sad to lose such a pillar of our art community. I will miss him and his sometimes cynical humor that could not disguise a genuine love of art and humanity.
You can see some of Brian’s recent Facebook posts including paintings, exhibits, and music videos of his banjo-playing with old-time music ensembles. May he enjoy eternal peace in the spirit of the arts he loved.
Yours in art,