Leon Holmes reports about the specific character of Art in the Open, a plein air painting festival held recently in southeast Ireland.

More than 200 artists participated in this year’s edition of the event, which attracted painters from Australia (such as Holmes), England, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Spain, the United States, and elsewhere. While there were prizes awarded — David Diaz of the United States took the top prize — Holmes says the competition aspect was one of the least important parts.

Leon Holmes joking around with Vicky Norman during a Quick Draw competition

“From my perspective the event is a lot more about painting, learning, and having a good time with fellow artists,” he says. “Every day everyone travels to a new painting location; they had buses for people without cars. Everyone paints together and spends time together. Every painting location is somewhere beautiful or historic. And afterward, everyone heads to the pub at night for live Irish music and a few pints of Guinness.”

Participants in Art in the Open at work

Sara Holmes, Leon’s wife, tries out a composition

It’s an open event — participants are not juried in. Holmes reports that a wide variety of media were represented — even spray paint. “There is very little or no animosity among the painters,” says Holmes. “Many amateur painters participate, and there are activities and workshops running every day for them to participate in.”

Holmes also led a figure-painting workshop while in Ireland for the festival.

The headquarters for the event is Wexford, and the top prize is called the Mayor’s Award. Organizers claim that Art in the Open is the largest plein air event in Europe. While it may not be the richest event in terms of cash awards, Holmes says it is one of the best. “The festival is not oriented toward sales,” he says. “It is a community event based on workshops and the coming together of plein air painters. For me personally, it opened the doors to where my career is today, and without this event, my life as an artist would be very different.


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