Dualing & dueling at the easel

Landscape painters Michael Orwick and Anton Pavlkenko have a friendly showdown at Cannon Beach's Earth & Ocean Arts Festival

It all started five or so years ago with one of those “what if” conversations — the kind no one really expects to go anywhere. But in this case, it did. They call it “dualing easels,” or, if you’re painter Michael Orwick, “dueling easels”: “It is a little bit antagonistic in a way,” he notes, adding, “Playfully.”

 The showdown is part of this year’s Earth & Ocean Arts Festival, a new event in Cannon Beach aimed at blending art with environmental awareness. Fifty percent of the proceeds go to five ecology-focused nonprofits.

 It’s the best of the Plein Air & More Arts Festival, which ended in 2018 after a 10-year run, with some added twists, Orwick says. Along with Anton Pavlenko, he’ll lead the “Painting Coastal Color and Light 2019” plein air workshop leading up to the festival.

Orwick and Pavlenko, at work …

“I was part of the Plein Air Festival every single year,” says Orwick. “I think there is no better way to appreciate the Oregon Coast — the wind, the sun, the smells. To be out there and letting that affect you and your image. People can tell; there is a freshness and vitality that comes through. I love painting in my studio, but there is nothing like painting on location.” You can learn more about that here.

 The festival itself runs Friday, Sept. 20 through Sunday, Sept. 22, (get ticket information and the schedule here) and includes art on the beach, a guided nature walk, raku demonstrations, performances by the Artichoke Dance Company of New York, and, of course, “Dualing Easels.”

Orwick and Pavlenko started the duel as part of the Stormy Weather Arts Festival in 2014. This will be their fifth time sharing easels.

“Every year, I expect it to not work,” says Orwick. “It’s chaos. And every year we pull it out somehow. Every year I am surprised. I kind of joke that the audience is there in almost a cruel way to watch a slow moving car accident. You just don’t know what is going to happen. Anton and I have very different painting approaches. He paints very, very, very thick. I’m known as more of a thin and atmospheric painter. He’s ultra-impressionistic and I border almost on old-fashioned tonalism. Our style is different, our colors are different, our brushstrokes are different.”

… and at play. Photos courtesy Earth & Ocean Arts Festival

 But they do share one thing: both are landscape oil painters. They don’t discuss what they’ll paint beforehand, but show up with their idea and go to work, each at their own easel with their own tools. Neither can see what the other is painting. At the 20-minute mark, the two switch easels, working with each other’s brushes and paints. Over the course of an hour and a half, they switch every 20 minutes. You can watch them at work here.

 “There’s an interesting dichotomy that shows up,” says Orwick. “That first year, I was pleasantly surprised how nicely they turned out. We sold the paintings. People were very excited by the fact that we are both collected artists and to have painting done by both of us was pretty special.”

 And while the goal is to create good art, the two don’t take themselves too seriously.

 “Every time is like the first time. We both like challenges and we’re both willing to make asses of ourselves in front of people.  Anton is a really funny guy and I try to be. We talk the whole time. It’s almost like watching two people wrestle.”

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