Kansas painter John Hulsey was recently filmed for a 15-minute spot in an upcoming episode of “Living St. Louis: Sunday Arts,” a show produced by KETC, the public television station in St. Louis. He was filmed painting en plein air on a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm that dramatically overlooks the Mississippi River.
“Above the Mississippi,” by John Hulsey, oil, 9 x 12 in., and the view that inspired it
“I am always interested in painting rivers,” says Hulsey. “Off the top of my head I can name 12 rivers that I have painted. I am strongly attracted to them as subject matter — they have many great facets to them. Unlike a lake, something is going by all the time — it might bring you something, like a boat. And there are edges where land meets water, where there’s diverse plant material and animals. Plants along a river are sometimes larger because they are well-watered and aren’t molested as much, so you get fabulous trees. And I love the way the light plays on the water — plus there’s mist and other weather effects.”
A view of the Mississippi River from La Vista Farm, a CSA that is on the property of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, in Godfrey, Illinois
Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty, have sailed on the Mississippi with their friend, architect John Guenther, and previously noticed the high cliffs and curious buildings in the spot. “A couple of times we’ve said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go up there and paint?,'” says Hulsey. “John [Guenther] did a lot of work to make that happen.” The farm, which is located in Godfrey, Illinois, just north of St. Louis, is part of the novitiate of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate — a place for clergy-in-training of that particular Catholic order to prepare for their vows. Talks with Patrick Murphy, a producer of the public TV show, extended for more than six months as the various parties worked out a timetable for the shoot. Finally, in October, Hulsey was filmed on location for an hour and interviewed as he painted. “I haven’t seen what he has made of it, but my pitch to him had a lot to do with the plein air aspect of painting,” says Hulsey, “the challenge of going out and trying to make a decent picture while standing right next to a river or above a river. It’s still a subject that people in the Midwest don’t know that much about, compared to some places in the country.” The episode is scheduled to air sometime in December.
Hulsey on camera
The artist loved the location, which included a very dramatic outcropping that hung over the cliffs overlooking the Mississippi. “You could see 180 degrees up and down the river,” recalls Hulsey. “The farm was a big spread, with quite a bit of land, and it was gorgeous. There were dozens of places I could paint, but we chose to film in the yard in front of the house.” Hulsey explained on camera the difference between plein air painting and studio painting, and talked about his process. “We teach a lot, and so this is part of the instructional component we do,” says Hulsey. “I want to encourage more people to go outside and paint, to get out there and try it. On a show like this, they can see me do it and know that it is possible. But you have to learn it by doing it. No one can train you for plein air painting. You have to experience the challenges firsthand to get any good at it.”
Hulsey hopes that the show or the segment gets picked up for broadcast on PBS stations nationwide, as previous segments by Murphy have, “but even if it doesn’t, the St. Louis PBS station has a lot of viewers.” Says the artist, “You do enough things over the years and you learn that some of these things turn out great and lead to sales and shows and other opportunities, and sometimes they don’t do much.” He pauses. “I just like painting there.”
Another view of the Mississippi from the cliffs at the edge of La Vista Farm
Hulsey had a great time, and he believes he was not alone. “I think they enjoyed watching me paint. The producer is a collector and knows about painting. He was asking the best questions about process — about color choice, the decisions about taking things out, adding things. He really enjoyed seeing what I added to the piece to pull it together.”