about San Jose, and capturing its transition on canvas
published in San Jose News, April 16 1980
By Wes Peyton
If you want to know a place, that is if you want to fix the feel and
the smell and the look of it down deep in your bones, find yourself
an artist. Little of importance escapes the artist’s eye (or heart),
which is why art often is better history than history.
In the months that we’ve been exchanging our personal views of
where we live, I’ve found a couple of artists. More accurately,
they’ve found me, and it’s been rewarding.
First, there was Anthony Quartuccio, who spent half a century growing
up here and who shared some of his favorite memories of the past –
an apricot drying yard, the old red brick City Hall, Lick Observatory
Comes now Janet Kruskamp, a practitioner without
peer of what today’s critics are pleased to call romantic
realism. (When I was a kid, it was called representational art,
and the critics snubbed it as photo-realism. I always thought
they were fools.)
Janet Kruskamp is no Sunday painter. She held her first one-woman
show at age 11 (in Burbank), and her work is found in collections
both here and in Europe. The Kruskamps, Janet, husband Hardy,
sons Charles and Steven and daughter Jennifer, moved to Los Gatos
a dozen years ago. Janet set to painting the country roads, the
orchards, the fruitstands, barns and old trucks – so many
scenes similar to yet different from the San Fernando Valley where
she and Hardy grew up.
Her major project, though, and one on which she and the family
spent eight summers, was a 30,000-mile criss-crossing exploration
of the United States. That produced her Bicentennial collection,
“An Artist in Search of America.” Yet in those eight
years she never stopped painting the home scenes, too –
and contrasting them with her memories of the San Fernando Valley.
Then, two years ago, the similarity struck home. Both valleys
were being changed, irrevocably, by growth. She determined to
capture our transition on canvas, and later this year her new
collection, entitled aptly enough “Transition,” opens
in the San Jose Museum of Art.
How does Janet Kruskamp, artist, feel about all this?
“It’s sad to see the old buildings being torn down,”
she said the other day, “downtown shop owners leaving for
the huge shopping centers. Beautiful old buildings are now just
empty shells, havens for winos to sleep in. The older inner city
dwellers have to walk farther now than they did in the past to
find a neighborhood store, if they can find one at all.
“I try to retain a certain detachment, as
a professional artist (and amateur historian.) I tell myself I
choose this subject or that for its good composition or its interesting
effect of light and shadow, but after two years of searching out
and painting San Jose, I find I can’t hide my true feelings
in my paintings. What a fraud I am.
“I can’t remain detached and objective about this
collection of art at all. I don’t choose my subjects solely
for their artistic values. I have discovered that I really do
care, personally, about the future of San Jose. I care about its
history. I don’t want to see all of it covered up with new
growth. I care about the inner city and the people who live there.
“I care about the poignant contrasts of this transition –
the freeways strung like ancient Stonehenges across the town, the new
high-rise office building reflected in the dirty windowpane of the empty
store across the street, the pawnshop in the shadow of the multi-story
bank. These are the symbols of change, and I want to capture them so
that we’ll know how it was, how we were, later.
“That’s what artists do,
you know. We record a specific time, place and event for future
generations. Our pictures are time capsules, and I want mine to
capture a city rebuilding itself on the ashes and broken mortar
of the past century.
“Like a once-beautiful woman, San Jose is undergoing a
facelift. The transition can sometimes be painful and even unattractive
at first, but when her wounds heal, San Jose is going to present
the world with a shining new countenance, one that will endure
well into the 21st century.”
Yes Janet, you do wear your heart on your sleeve – and
on your canvases. Keep it there, girl; I like what I see.