Jill Steenhuis doesn’t just see the subjects she paints.
She engages all her senses. She thinks about how the wind feels against her face, sees how it bends the branches of aspens, hears the sound of the leaves it swirls and smells the scent of pine from the trees it agitates. Then she paints as fast as she can.
“It comes out on the canvas in one go,” the French impressionistic painter said. “The object is to paint as rapidly and as fast as I can so I can bypass the intellect.”
Steenhuis will show a collection of her work at an exhibition from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at 3230 W. Rockcress Road in Wilson. The show, called “Moving Mountains,” will feature about 80 works she created in France, along with any work she paints in her time in Jackson leading up to the show. The work is mainly landscapes with a few still lifes and is primarily paintings, but includes a few drawings. Her work will hang alongside Jackson resident John Springer’s paintings. Her son, Sergio Ruffato, will also show a collection of his sculpture.
The theme of mountains permeates the entire show, Steenhuis said. Proceeds from the show will benefit PAWS of Jackson Hole. The show is set to be Steenhuis’ second time showing in Jackson and working with PAWS.
Steenhuis always loved art, but it was a book of Paul Cézanne’s paintings her father gave her for her 16th birthday that led her to impressionist painting. Steenhuis went on to study art at Sweet Briar College, where she trained in a variety of mediums. After she graduated she enrolled in the Marchutz School of Fine Art in France, where she studied drawing and painting and worked primarily outside, plein air painting. When she finished her studies she stayed in France and painted in the same spots as her heroes, Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh.
Steenhuis now works exclusively outside, in the field. She never paints from photographs, only rendering what she sees live and in front of her.
“I must be in front of the subject to take it in through the senses,” she said.
That means she must work quickly. Steenhuis can complete a painting in 40 minutes. By painting live instead of from a photograph, and engaging all her senses, her efforts yield a creative work rather than a copy of nature, she said.
“My goal is to create an impressionistic, poetic sensation of what I’m feeling when I’m in nature,” she said. “I allow nature to be the catalyst for my work and reveal its mysteries to me. Nature is my dancing partner, and we waltz together.”
Her paintings convey that movement she feels with seemingly wild brush strokes. The impressionistic style provides space for viewers to put their own read and reaction into the painting. Steenhuis purposefully leaves her works slightly unfinished to foster viewer engagement.
“I don’t finish the work because I have faith in my viewers that they want to play a role in this modern dance on the canvas,” she said.
Impressionism fits the subject matter that attracts Steenhuis’ attention. She loves movement. She’s drawn to cotton flying in the air from trees or hundreds of butterflies surrounding flowers. She’s interested in the role of wind in the natural world. To capture these scenes, she must work rapidly, and let her brush move organically and without calculation to create not just what she sees, but her entire experience in the outdoors. ￼