The Making of "Outside"

This is a combination of two posts written by the Harrison Center's Art Director, Pam Allee, for their website: What a month it has been for the Harrison Gallery! Plein air painter Justin Vining’s epic show, Outside, was a huge success, with over 70 pieces selling on opening night. Herron High School senior Charlie Sorrells and HCA veteran video intern Thulani Smith, documented some of the work that led up to the show in this short documentary film, “The Road to Outside.”

Originally published on February 27, 2017:

Artist Justin Vining is excited . . . always, but seemingly never more than he is these days. His solo show of over 100 Indianapolis plein air paintings, Outside, opens this Friday, March 3rd in the Harrison Gallery and Gallery Annex.  With his ever-present enthusiasm, he recently sat down and talked to us about the unexpected direction his work has taken and how it has changed his art practice.

When Vining arrived on the scene at the Harrison Center in 2014, the teacher-turned-lawyer-turned-artist had already cultivated a loyal following. Known for the whimsical, watercolor, contemporary landscapes he began creating in law school, he had really carved out his niche. But if you spend much time around Vining, one thing becomes apparent: he is not one to rest on his laurels or to be satisfied with the status quo. Always pushing himself to acquire and perfect new skills, he began experimenting with oil painting for his 2016 solo show, Coming Home. Much of the subject matter was familiar, rural landscapes, but the style had begun to shift.

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Vining’s work, 2014-16

Vining says that in preparing for the 2016 show, he didn’t know much about oil painting, but he knew that learning more about the medium would make him a better artist. And so, he got to work. A turning point came last July when the Indianapolis Public Library hired Vining and fellow HCA artist Kyle Ragsdale to do a plein air demonstration. (This program, and 97% of Indianapolis Public Library all programs, was funded by the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation, sponsor of our March exhibits.) Ragsdale, who is also the Harrison Gallery curator, says, “It has been exciting to see Justin’s passion for painting and to see him painting outside every day in all conditions. It makes me excited to come to work and see what he is working on.”


Next, Vining was juried in to the Penrod Arts Fair as an oil painter, a first for him. From there, Vining began painting outside almost daily, through changing seasons and with an ever-widening group of artist peers. He explained that painting with others has many benefits–from providing safety in numbers when working in remote areas to learning from the various styles and techniques unique to every artist.

For this show, his subject matter ranges from familiar iconic Indy locations in the city like Monument Circle and Mass Ave. to a number of Indy Parks sites. The common theme is that every painting depicts someplace in Indianapolis.

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work from the “Outside” exhibit

It is clear when listening to Vining talk about this work that he has fallen in love with plein air painting. (He may or may not have used the word “addicted.”) And while he will occasionally return to his old style, he finds the most satisfaction in the new, explaining, “I think this is the best work I’ve ever made.”


Vining says he enjoys painting en plein air in all settings and conditions, but perhaps his favorite time is very early in the morning on weekends “when the city is asleep.” Painting in winter has provided challenges he enjoys because the flat, muted winterscapes make one focus more on value and less on contrasting colors, which has pushed him to grow in his craft.

We hope you will join us this Friday from 6 to 10pm inside the Harrison Gallery and Annex for Outside! The work hangs through March 31.