Janet Kruskamp's Paintings - Caring about San Jose, and capturing its transition on canvas, an article about Janet Kruskamp - original paintings  hand by the artist

Caring about San Jose, and capturing its transition on canvas
Originally 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 by moonlight.

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.

Transition 1, a painting  by Janet Kruskamp
Transition 2, a painting by Janet Kruskamp
Transition 3, a painting by Janet Kruskamp

San Jose, California

Janet Kruskamp

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.

The Gazebo, a painting by Janet Kruksamp
San Jose, California

©1980 Janet Kruskamp

“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.

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