Former Danbury artist to attend Grand Canyon Celebration of Art

Every time Jose Luis Nunez visits the Grand Canyon, he is taken aback by the sheer immensity of the landscape in front of him, from the steep buttes and rock formations to the range of colors there.

As a professional painter for over 25 years, Nunez will return to the canyon’s South Rim to paint during the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art, an event held by the Grand Canyon Conservancy, which invites artists to apply to paint “en plein air” (outdoors) Sept. 10-17. The artists show their work in an on-site gallery in an exhibition running through January. Formerly of Danbury and now living in San Diego, Nunez will mark his third year participating in this event and is one of 22 artists participating this year.

Artist Jose Luis Nunez.  

Artist Jose Luis Nunez.  

Marina Anderson/ Contributed photo

The event is a longstanding tradition that offers an added experience for canyon visitors as well as an opportunity for artists inspired by the landscape. It is also a fundraiser supporting the Grand Canyon’s historic Kolb Studio, which hosts the exhibition. According to a press release issued by the Conservancy, “Art plays a critical role in the appreciation of our national parks, and this event helps to keep the artistic tradition part of the Grand Canyon experience.”

Nunez said that given the immensity of the canyon, he finds it best to focus on small parts of the scenery, rather than attempting to paint everything. Among his favorite places to paint on the South Rim are Mather Point and Yaki Point.

“There is so much to paint and that’s one of the things I love about the Grand Canyon — almost everywhere you turn your sights to, you find something interesting to paint and not only interesting but very emotional,” he said.

The artist also noted that the Grand Canyon touches his emotions due to its magnitude. “It’s vast and everything is majestic. This year what I am looking forward to is painting the contrast of the trees,” he said. “There are a lot of junipers by the edge of the rim overlooking the canyons so I will look for that contrast of the trees, the canyons and the rock formations.”

As a painter, he often painted natural landscapes, bridges and culverts in Kent and around Danbury in the three years he lived in Connecticut from 2011 to 2013. He said painting in the West is different, as the qualities of light and color there are more intense, drier and more sunny.

Jose Luis Nunez said Yaqui Point, depicted in this painting, is one of his favorite spots to paint. 

Jose Luis Nunez said Yaqui Point, depicted in this painting, is one of his favorite spots to paint. 

Courtesy of Jose Luis Nunez

“There are normally no clouds, especially where we live in San Diego. You hardly ever have clouds and clouds are very important for painting because they are shades,” he said, explaining that clouds tame and neutralize that intense light.

Painting in the Grand Canyon brings its own set of challenges as the sunlight moves quickly so he has to paint fast to complete a painting in one session outside as the light and shadows are constantly changing.

“The sun is not only advancing every minute and changing the light and shadows but also the clouds … I have seen storms and clouds approaching and they sweep the canyons,” he said. “There is a lot of drama in the Grand Canyon. Every day when you are painting, you don’t know what you’re going to find.”

When he previously painted en plein air at the Grand Canyon, he averaged about two paintings a day. The artists are allowed to finish up the next day, but he said he prefers to finish a painting in one session. 

An artist painting the Grand Canyon as part of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.

An artist painting the Grand Canyon as part of the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art.

Grand Canyon Conservancy/ Contributed photo

The artists are encouraged to go back to the studio each day, frame their work and hang them in the gallery on their assigned wall. Nunez said ardent collectors will visit the gallery every day that week to see what new works catch their eyes to try to be the first to buy them. Most plein air painters work on small canvases to allow them to finish in a few hours, and Nunez mostly does paintings that are 11 by 14 inches or 9 by 12 inches. He has worked in acrylics, but prefers oils for this kind of work. “Normally it’s oils because they allow me more time to blend, to think, to correct. Acrylics dry very fast,” he said.

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