Ask Alan Flattmann about soft pastels and the Covington artist’s enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of the medium is immediately evident.
There’s a vibrancy to them “that’s unrivaled,” said Flattmann, who teaches portrait and landscape classes using pastels at Abbey Art Works and wrote a book on the subject, “The Art of Pastel Painting.”
Flattmann first discovered pastels — sticks of pure powdered pigment held together with a binder — in high school art classes, where he got a small box of assorted colors. “We had an hourlong class, which was more like 45 minutes. … It was the most immediate thing I could do quickly within that time limitation,” he said.
After using them just for life drawing classes at the McCrady Art School, Flattmann got serious about pastels in the 1970s when he was doing primarily oil paintings and large watercolors.
“With the watercolors, I began to experiment with working with pastel over the watercolors. Eventually, my interest turned more to the pastel.”
Pastels are “a unique medium because it’s a dry medium,” said Flattmann, who’s achieved international recognition for his pastel pieces depicting New Orleans scenes. “It’s as close as you can get to pure color when you’re doing two-dimensional painting.”
Starting Dec. 5, 80 pastel paintings can be seen at the St. Tammany Art Association in Covington as part of the Degas Pastel Society 18th biennial national exhibition. It’s a date and location that came together after the planned exhibition spot — the New Orleans Art Center on St. Claude Avenue — permanently closed because of the pandemic.
“It quite an ordeal because of COVID,” said Flattmann, a board member of the nonprofit dedicated to promoting public awareness of the pastel medium and providing exposure and recognition to its more than 200 members from around the country through exhibitions.
Flattmann and six other artists formed the Degas Pastel Society in 1984, following the successful Premier Pastel Show, New Orleans’ first pastel exhibition in November of 1983 at the then-International Trade Mart. The group named it in honor of Edgar Degas, the French impressionist who spent six months in New Orleans and is known for his skill with pastels.
“At that time, pastels were not that popular, not that many artists were using them. But it was sort of the beginning of the renaissance of pastels. The Pastel Society of America had formed in New York City about 10 years earlier, and it was really taking off,” Flattmann said.
Open to pastel artists both nationally and internationally, the Degas Society’s current exhibition shows the popularity of the medium and the variety of subjects for which the sticks can be used. There are engaging portraits of everyday people and interesting images of everyday items, such as papers and wheel rims. There also are breathtaking landscapes and colorful street scenes among others.
The medium is attractive to artists, Flattmann said, because of “the directness of it, in that if you look at a box of pastels you’ve got all of these beautiful colors in front of you. And you just grab the color you want and paint directly.”
The pieces were selected by juror Lyn Asselta, a Maine pastel artist who’s exhibited landscape paintings nationally and internationally and is an eminent pastelist with the International Association of Pastel Societies, along with distinctive standings in other professional art associations.
The exhibition will be judged by Don Marshall, a former St. Tammany Art Association executive director and current executive director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation.
As part of the exhibition, Flattmann will lead a demo Dec. 12 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., followed by demos with Degas Society board members Darlene Johnson and Glinda Schafer on Jan. 9, and Betty Efferson and Dawn Koetting on Jan. 23. The demos are free, but advance registration is required.