By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – “En plein air” is French for “outside”—where acclaimed artist Lisa Gleim prefers to be when positioned in front of her palette of pastels along one of the area’s many mountain-scapes or rivers. The Atlanta, Georgia native has been living in Big Sky part-time for the last four years, and spends her time capturing the region’s stunning beauty, both in landscape and fauna.
Gleim comes from a family of successful Southern artists, is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and has earned awards in her profession from the Audubon Artists, and Artist of the Year from the Atlanta branch of the American Pen Women. Right now, her work can be found locally in the Courtney Collins Fine Art gallery, PureWest Real Estate office and Lone Mountain Ranch.
“My mother was artistic and my father was very … he could make anything and build anything,” Gleim said. “All I could remember doing as a kid before I could even write my name is drawing pictures on paper. I always was drawing and just can’t even think of a time when I did not draw. It’s one of those things that’s like breathing.”
Gleim says she was lucky to have parents who encouraged her artistic abilities. Today, she works in both pastel and oil, and captures her subjects outside whenever possible, whether by photograph or plein air, which she says helps her to focus on one important element: light.
“Painting en plein air is really about paying attention to light,” Gleim said. “The light changes all day and you really have to pay attention to what it is you want to focus on. You’re capturing the mood at the moment and to do that you really have to be out there to capture that.”
By using both the foundation she painted outdoors, and the photographs she takes, Gleim is able to better merge those tiny milliseconds in time into what she calls a “mental bank.” Each year, Gleim comes out to Yellowstone National Park with a painting group and spends a week doing plein air paintings, one session in the morning and one in the afternoon, when the light is best, then they return to the studio and work from their smaller samples to create something bigger. They’ll then hang their paintings up on a wall and critique.
“It’s the area,” she says of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. “It’s not lacking in any inspiration. The rivers are a big inspiration … as an artist there’s so much out there that’s so inspiring that it can be kind of overwhelming.”
Gleim, her husband Bill Jonas, daughter Libby Jonas and three rescue dogs enjoy traveling and coming out to Big Sky whenever they can—more so, Gleim says, after Libby graduates from high school in a few years. Bill, on a post-college ski trip with his buddies, drove from Pennsylvania, stayed in Big Sky and ended up, like many, falling in love with the area and taking a summer job in town. It wasn’t until he took the family out in 2016 that they made the leap and bought a place—Gleim jokes that she’s out here more than him.
When she’s not painting in Southwest Montana’s great outdoors, Gleim serves as the secretary for the American Women Artists, an organization dedicated to the advancement of women in the fine arts, and volunteers with Meals On Wheels.
Whether Big Sky, the Gallatin River or Yellowstone National Park, spending so much time out in such striking landscapes among the wild animals and elements is always a priority and has taught Gleim lessons on purpose and connectivity along the way.
“Everything has a purpose, even down to the earth worms,” she said. “I think being out there and being around nature and seeing all the nuances that feed the landscape … I’ve become more knowledgeable about the environment. I’ve always been an environmentalist, and always been a lover of nature but I think being out there and spending so much time out there and seeing it in action … everything has a purpose and everything is affected by everything else, everything is connected.”
Included in this relationship is the artist, and viewer of the finished product as well and the connection it forms. A painting is a translation of a scene, from the artist, presented to a viewer, therefore forming an emotional connection.
“With a painting it’s something that’s coming from my soul, through my hand, to the paper, to the viewer,” Gleim said. “There’s something about … it’s almost like a piece of artwork has a life of its own and a soul of its own because it comes from someone’s hand.”