Skinner 1, Russell Steven Powell acrylic on canvas, 36x24

Skinner 1, acrylic on canvas, 36×24

IF IT ISN’T the literal image, what is it?


Russell Steven Powell (Jan Ruby photo)

(Jan Ruby photo)

THESE TWO PAINTINGS are from a plein air session organized by the Kestrel Land Trust at Skinner State Park, Hadley, Massachusetts Sunday, June 25. I was the only non-representational painter in the group of a dozen artists.

Using acrylic paint, I went back and forth between canvases, painting on one while the other dried. Painter Jan Ruby, who took the accompanying photo, and I arrived at 8:30 and began painting around 9, finishing up at 12:30. I added clouds in “Skinner 1” with a palette knife the next morning.


FROM THE SUMMIT, the Connecticut River is a relatively small part of a majestic view reaching west to the Berkshires: a placid, horizontal ribbon from our height, muddy brown from the previous day’s rain.

Having lived near the Connecticut for all of my adult life these past 40 years, the river occupies a much larger part of my physical and psychic landscape than the scene before me. It is the dominant feature of where I live, an eternal presence, a magnet, an inconvenience, an irreducible fact. I cannot traverse western Massachusetts without confronting the river.

Looks can be deceiving. Beneath that calm surface is a great power, a relentless, churning current harboring all kinds of life and carrying debris to the sea. The river provides a metaphor for the hidden strength and turmoil lurking within us beneath our self-possessed facades.

The river in my paintings occupies its literal space, but reflects these material and symbolic influences.


A ROW OF MIXED YOUNG TREES in the foreground echoes the river’s horizontal line from where I sit. They are not the most impressive features of my landscape, but they are impossible to ignore.

There are 50 shades of green, at least, in the trees, and they shift and change in the breeze. Rather than attempt to mix the colors individually on a palette, I apply my paint directly from the tubes onto the canvas, and blend them together through a serious of brushstrokes, adding paint and color in layers to approximate the complexity of the trees.

The trees, after all, are not the object of my view. I take them in indiscriminately as my eyes seek the river, fields, mountains, and sky in the distance.

Skinner 2, Russell Steven Powell acrylic on canvas, 36x24

Skinner 2, acrylic on canvas, 36×24


Foreground Conclusion, Russell Steven Powell oil on canvas, 24x36

Foreground Conclusion, oil on canvas, 24×36

“A Paletteable Feast!” at Hope and Olive Restaurant, 44 Hope St., Greenfield, features more than 20 new oil and acrylic paintings. It will remain on view through August.

Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.




  1. i like these very much, interestingly, I think, because there is a sense of relationship to the landscape that is without specific scale or exact dimension, but still quite specific and exacting! Hence, curiously, at this altitude, there is for me an intriguing intimacy.

    Plein air resonates with “hiding in plain site.”
    Wonderful as always, Russ.


  2. I watched the progress of your plein air paintings as they evolved. From the start it was evident to me that your approach was intuitive, brave and totally yours. I admire the truth of your work and am inspired by what you do to look within myself more often than outward. Thank you Russ!

    1. Thank you, Jan (and for the great photograph!). I am truly humbled by your kind words, and appreciate your support.

  3. I liked the first of your river views more than the second. The trees, for me, had more depth and mystery, even though I understand there is more sunlight in the second, which removes some of those shadows, or so I think.

    1. What timing! I was just thinking of you on my walk yesterday, about how I had not heard from you for a while. Thank you for your comments–always insightful and interesting. I hope you are fully healed by now. See you soon!

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