Contemporary realism cityscapes
"Columbus Circle Golden Hour" (oil, 40 x 30 in.) by Jonathan McHugh, won the "Best Artist Under 30" category for the March 2021 Plein Air Salon

Congratulations to Jonathan McHugh (, whose work has been recognized in the Plein Air Salon, a monthly art competition with many categories in which to enter your art.

On Painting “Columbus Circle Golden Hour”


“Columbus Circle Golden Hour” is a 30×40″ oil painting based on a view from one of the best nights of my life. While visiting New York City, I proposed to the love of my life on a fall evening in Central Park. Minutes later, we were walking to a Broadway show and stopped at a crosswalk by Columbus Circle.

I was struck by the complex harmony between the gold sky, dark neutral architecture, and pink ice cream truck and umbrellas. I took a quick picture, which served as the reference for this painting in combination with my memory. It was a challenge to convey the busy chaos of New York without it feeling compositionally overwhelming, which is why I simplified some negative shapes and broke up edges with blurry glazing and scumbled palette knife textures.

On Entering the Plein Air Salon

Submitting art to Plein Air Salon can feel intimidating (at least for me), and you may feel the same way if you are considering entering your work, but I think that sense of humility is a good sign. It shows that we are striving to learn from the many outstanding artists who we look up to in this community.

I am 27 years old and have so much more to learn, which is what inspires me to practice constantly and immerse myself in the work of more experienced artists. At the same time, it is important to trust that my own artistic voice expresses something worthwhile, and I am honored that this was reciprocated by Plein Air Salon.

Additional Paintings by Jonathan McHugh:

Contemporary realism figurative art
Jonathan McHugh, “Hannah Upstairs,” oil on canvas, 16×20″, 2021
Contemporary oil paintings
Jonathan McHugh, “Bending Light,” oil on paper, 12×16″, 2021
Contemporary realism cityscape painting
Jonathan McHugh, “10th Avenue Overlook,” oil on canvas, 24×48″, 2020
Landscape painting
Jonathan McHugh, “Rain on the East River Valley,” oil on canvas, 16×20″, 2021
Landscape painting
Jonathan McHugh, “Alpine Snow in June,” oil on canvas, 24×30″, 2021

Other categories for the Plein Air Salon art competition include Best Building, Best Drawing and Sketches, and many more! Visit to view the complete list.

Why should a contemporary realist enter the Plein Air Salon?

Because this art contest is created by Plein Air magazine, which features not only plein air paintings, but also studio paintings, all types of paintings are eligible and do not need to have been completed in plein air, but should originate from a plein air study or plein air experience. As we know, many studio paintings start with plein air sketches. Our interest is in rewarding great paintings.

The Plein Air Salon awards $33,000 in CASH each year! Learn more at, and enter your best work for your chance to win this art competition. Enter now – the next deadline is coming soon!

Enter Now

If you’ve never entered, it only takes a couple of minutes to create your own account. Once you do that, just upload the images of your best work and select the categories you wish to enter – very manageable to do!

All of our awards are CASH, with the grand prize winner getting called up on stage at the Convention & Expo to claim their check for $15,000. That grand prize winner will also have their winning painting featured on the cover of Plein Air magazine (can it get any better?).

There are smaller cash awards, too, and you can find out all about them here. Remember, even if a previous judge did not select your painting, our current judge just might find it to be a winner!

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