By Bob Bahr
If you happened to notice a change in Rusty Frentner’s paintings over the last year and a half, you are not alone.
Frentner has noticed it, too, and it starts to make sense when the Michigan painter describes how 2015 went in his world.
It began in a most inauspicious fashion. Frentner landed a month-long solo show in Highland, Michigan, in January. But opening night, a terrible winter storm suggested that there would be a deserted gallery. “January is perhaps the worst month you can have a show in,” says Frentner. “Even I had a difficult time driving to the opening because of snow squalls. But more than 100 people showed up. That was the first indication that the year was going to be kind of special.”
Then, in June 2015, Frentner participated in Great Lakes Bay Plein Air, a weeklong outdoor painting event in Saginaw, Michigan. “I made some contacts there, but the big thing was the progress I made,” he says. “I was excited about the possibility of having a whole week to paint. I could see the change in my painting from the beginning of the week to the end. I started out with a lot of detail in my pieces, a long process—up to a day long. But the day before I had to turn in my paintings at the end I started a good one and was able to finish it in about three hours. That was a turning point. I got an award—Honorable Mention—in that show, my first plein air event.”
Frentner attributes much of his plein air success to his participation in Heiner Hirtling’s group. “That has been the most important thing that I’ve done,” says Frenter. “I try to get out once a week to paint outdoors. Even though I’m not happy with a lot of my plein air work, it’s taken a big turn. It’s a night and day difference from more than a year ago.” The plein air work isn’t just for the sake of plein air painting. Frentner has seen his studio work change because of his time outside. “My usage of color, design, and other things changed in my studio painting,” says the artist. “Before, I was trying to capture what I saw, but now also incorporating much more of a design into it. Elizabeth Pollie helped me to focus more on design. Now, even in the studio, I’ve gone from working on a painting over a day or two, to painting one in three or four hours. I’ve also switched from acrylic to oil, in part because painting in zero weather is difficult with acrylics. I’m getting really happy with my design.”
The good year kept getting better. Frentner was invited to travel to St. Augustine for an awards ceremony at a gallery art association. But as he sat in the crowd during the award announcements, he didn’t hear his name. “They announced Best of Show last and I thought they made a mistake and that I made that long trip for nothing,” says Frentner. “I was just so excited about that Best of Show; it felt like a big feather in my cap.”
It didn’t stop there. Frentner won an Award of Excellence from the National Oil and Acrylic Painters Society. He took First Place in Acrylics at the SKB workshop in September. He was a finalist in an art magazine competition and was written up in Southwest Art magazine. He sold paintings.
How’s that for a year? Ω