Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today
Barbara Mulleneaux lives just down the street from El Conquistador Resort, the location of the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) scheduled for April 15-19. She says the resort is gorgeous, but so is the road leading to it. Mulleneaux’s favorite place to paint is a two-mile stretch of Oracle Road in Tucson, Arizona.
Lead Image: “Magee Morning,” by Barbara Mulleneaux, oil, 8 x 10 in.
Although she often paints along Oracle Road, you may not see her while driving by. Check the back parking lot of In-N-Out Burger. She’s painted a number of successful pieces there. “It’s just a couple of minutes away, so even if I just have a couple of hours, I can knock out one behind the In-N-Out Burger,” says Mulleneaux. “The corridor has some strip malls and such blocking the views, but there’s parking behind them. It’s not unusual to see my little umbrella set up in a parking lot along Oracle. You get a great view of Pusch Ridge.”
Pusch Ridge consists of three peaks in the Santa Catalina Mountains. “It’s one of the more iconic groupings in Tucson,” says Mulleneaux. “There are a lot of great places to paint around Tucson — there’s two Saguaro National Parks, Sabino Canyon, Gates Pass, Catalina State Park, and Tortolita Mountain Park, plus more. But you can just drive along Oracle Road, which leads right to El Conquistador, and pull off and paint. There are a lot of cutouts in the road where they haven’t paved roads yet but are ready for development. I can pull off into one of those and paint.”
Mulleneaux is enthralled by the scenery in Tucson, and speaks enthusiastically about the spring season, when wildflowers and cactuses are in bloom. “They bloom at different times,” she says. “First comes the saguaro, then the prickly pear, then the cholla. The wildflowers are gorgeous; the place to go for that is Picacho Peak. Remember that the cactuses bloom in the middle of the day — that’s the tricky part. You don’t have the awesome shadows, but you have the blooms. I’ve seen some really amazing renderings of prickly pear blossoms. We’ve had a good amount of rain, so we should have a really nice bloom this year.”
The Tucson artist speaks ecstatically about the clouds in the region. “Especially in the summer, the clouds are just spectacular,” says Mulleneaux. “I can look out my front door and say yep, the clouds are perfect right now, or the shadows are just wild right now, and go paint it. We in Tucson, we all look at the mountains and never get tired of it. You can never run out of painting ideas here.”
That includes the warm light at sunset. Mulleneaux says the striking gold light at the end of the afternoon is why so many place names around Tucson are called “copper”—Copper Creek, Copper Ridge, etc. But it is a fleeting light condition. “It is just stunning, but it only lasts for about 10 minutes,” she says. “I’ve never even attempted to paint it, it’s so, so fast. Maybe if you have your easel set up and a small canvas — maybe 6” x 8” — and you have your structure set down, and you have seen it before, you can anticipate what it will look like and get the colors on your palette. You can probably capture it that way, but I’ve never seen anybody do it.”
It’s likely that challenge will be accepted by participants in PACE this April.