Local artist to show at Jitters

Chugiak’s Bombeck is an open air specialist


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Artist Greg Bombeck poses beside one of his paintings at his family's Chugiak home. Bombeck, a "plein air" painter who has been practicing the technique of outdoor painting for more than two decades, will be showing his work this month at Jitters in Eagle River.

STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Outdoor painting requires a special set of tools. A portable easel is a must, as is a box for paint and brushes; many artists also use an umbrella, which keeps direct sunlight off their canvas as they work silently to capture the pastoral scenes around them.

It doesn’t hurt to pack some heat, either.

“I carry a big firearm and mace with me all the time,” said Chugiak’s Greg Bombeck, whose travels in search of the perfect landscape often take him into prime Chugach State Park bear country.

Bombeck said he’s never had a close brush with a bruin, but he doesn’t like to take chances.

“Sometimes I get in the bush bushwhacking around and I get a little uncomfortable,” he said.

Bombeck has been a “plein air” (a French term for outdoor painting) artist since the mid-1990s. Much of his work is done within an hour’s drive of his South Birchwood home in the surrounding Chugach State Park.

“It’s such a big area,” he said.

He’s been featured in several art shows, and produced a six-part television series called “Plein Air, Painting the American Landscape” that aired on PBS. Bombeck’s work will be on display this month in Eagle River beginning today at Jitters Coffee Shop.

Jitters owner Dennis Johnson said he’s excited to have Bombeck’s striking paintings of local landmarks back at his shop.

“I love his work,” Johnson said. “He’s got some fantastic landscapes.”

Bombeck said he likes showing at Jitters because of the high volume of customers the shop sees.

“The traffic in there is enormous,” he said.

Bombeck said he plans to show about 20 paintings. Johnson and Bombeck agreed that a portion of the proceeds from any sales will be donated to Friends of the Eagle River Nature Center.

“It’s just a special place in the Eagle River valley,” Johnson said of the center.

Some of Bombeck’s favorite places to paint include Pioneer Peak near Palmer and the Eagle River Valley. He first got his start in the art world as a storyboard artist for Hanna-Barbera, working on cartoons like Scooby Doo and Super Friends. An avid outdoors enthusiast, Bombeck has always had a love for painting, and said he eventually drifted toward the plein air technique because of its authenticity.

“You really need to be out there to get the information you need to do a good painting,” he said.

Bombeck and his wife, Cindy, moved to Chugiak nearly three decades ago after Greg got a job as an art director with an advertising agency.

“We said, ‘We’ll give it three years, see how it works,” he recalled. “It’s been oh, 28, 29 years now…”

When starting a new painting, Bombeck said he first looks for a place that’s quiet, has open vistas and good light. After setting up his canvas, he said he’ll usually spend two or three hours working on a landscape, though he scolds himself for sometimes leaving too early.

“I tend to be too sloppy and quick,” he said.

Once a canvas is finished, he said he’ll usually bring it back home — where he’s got a studio set up in the family’s kitchen — to put on any finishing touches.

“If you start overdoing it you lose that spontaneity and freshness that plein air painting has,” he said.

Although the paintings closely resemble familiar sites around Chugiak and the Mat-Su, Bombeck said his works aren’t intended to be exact copies. Instead, he uses creative license to create an impression of what he’s seeing as he paints.

“You move stuff around,” he said. “You have to, because nature isn’t perfect.”

And neither is he. Bombeck said landscape artists must be patient enough to realize when a painting just doesn’t work.

“I’ve probably burned several hundred,” he said with a laugh.

He said he keeps after it because of the solitude afforded by painting outdoors and the closeness he’s able to get with his subjects.

“You get engrossed,” he said.

Standing quiet and alone in the open for hours on end might seem like an easy way to end up face-to-face with a curious wild animal. But that’s when the final piece of Bombeck’s a plein air painting kit comes in.

“It’s good to take a dog, because he knows when something’s sneaking up on you,” he said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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