Janet Kruskamp's Paintings - Janet Kruskamp's America, an article about Janet Kruskamp

Janet Kruskamp's America
Originally published in Southwest Art, June 1975
by Janice Lovoos

As the 200th birthday of our nation draws near, there is an accelerated interest among artists to preserve what man, through greed, carelessness or apathy, has chosen to forget or destroy. Artists, by the very nature of their work are among the most intimate recorders of history. Today they are re-evaluating and painting, perhaps with more affection than ever before, the things which have given these United States their unique character.

Among them is Janet Kruskamp of Los Gatos, California, an artist who is dedicated to painting the American scene and who is deeply involved in research for presenting it in minute and authentic detail. A recent article described Kruskamp’s subjects as “objects showing a history of human use, a hammock, and old chair, a front porch whose steps are worn and bowed with years of use. All are mute evidence of man’s activities.”

“Inanimate objects seem also to be human or alive to me,” this artist claims,” and my studio is full of what other people might call junk. But to me these odds and ends, sometimes discards, can have a real emotional impact when they are grouped together as a still life.”

A major exhibition of her work is scheduled for the bicentennial year for which Kruskamp has chosen the theme, “An Artist in Search of America.” The “search” will include much travel throughout the United States for material. In fact, it was begun last summer when the artist, her husband, and 12-year old daughter, traveled more than 7,000 miles, criss-crossing most of the United States west of the Mississippi.

“America’s landscapes are well-known and well painted by many artists,” Janet said, “so my exhibition will not be so much a geographical statement …as one depicting life styles and activities of Americans of various age groups.” Typical are a number of pictures already completed, such as SHADE TREE MECHANICS and ANNA’S FRONT PORCH.

Janet Kruskamp’s fascination for depicting everything around her began even before she enrolled in grammar school. As a child she sketched anything within the range of her perceptive eyes.

“When we had company,” she recalls, “I would paint portraits of our guests, sometimes to the chagrin of my mother.” She exaggerated the features in their most unflattering aspects; an over-sized nose, a network of wrinkles, a conspicuous wart. Nevertheless her parents, each creative in his own way, encouraged their daughter to exercise this natural talent. At an early age she began winning awards for drawing and painting, and at age 11 she made her official debut in a one-“woman” exhibit at the Local Arts and Recreation Center in Burbank, California.

There never was a doubt as to her direction. “I always knew I was going to grow up and be an artist. There was never a period in my life when I didn’t know this.” She has consistently polished her techniques and improved her drawing through the years, yet her approach to art has not changed. She paints in the way that came naturally to her. “I have always been a realist and have worked in a traditional, representational way.”

Although she was born in Grant’s Pass, Oregon, she might easily consider herself a native Californian – her family moved to the San Fernando Valley when she was but 1-year old. After graduation from the San Fernando High School, she was honored with the Bank of America Award Achievement for Fine Arts, then attended Chouinard Art School on a scholarship.

Although Kruskamp sometimes uses oil as her medium, her primary medium is tempera, and this seems ideal for her style and subject matter. “I use the purist method, no additives. Just pure egg yolk and pigment which I keep in jars.”

When Kruskamp started working with tempera she would first draw a complete “cartoon” on paper which she then transferred to the gesso panel, using India ink to reinforce the drawing. “This is the traditional method,” Kruskamp explained, “but by doing this I locked myself into that particular drawing – to make changes while painting ranged from difficult to impossible.

“So I began to break a few rules,” she admitted, “No Indian ink, no strong lines.” This allowed her the freedom of making corrections either by rubbing or scraping off the paint with no fear of heavy lines bleeding through. Since tempera is an extremely difficult and disciplined medium. “Egg tempera is really more versatile than most people might think. I have discovered many different techniques and tools for creating textures and special effects. For instance, you can ‘scumble’ a beautiful sky, rather than paint it painstakingly stroke upon stroke.”

She prefers working on very carefully prepared gesso panels to painting on canvas. Many preliminary drawings are made before Kruskamp tackles her piece, and when she travels to a certain area to sketch, she takes her camera with her and often takes pictures in order to retain certain details of a building or the quality of light and shade at various times of the day. As often as possible she paints on the spot, using her friends and relatives as models. When necessary, she hires professional models from a local agency.

Kruskamp’s works can become lyrical at times, and this seems to happen more frequently in her figure paintings. Her knowledge of the use of light and shadow may be observed in her work, and what she has learned about textures comes to life in such commonplace subject matter as railroad ties in WAITING FOR THE FOURFIFTEEN or the crumbling walls in MOON’S PLACE.

Strength and delicacy are combined in THE WEB in which the corner of an old barn is the subject matter. Here the artist contrasts the fragile threads of a spider web with the heavy boards and siding that groan with age and disrepair.

Her work evokes tenderness, nostalgia and, generally, a mood of happiness. Some of these qualities undoubtedly spring from the artist herself, a vibrant, beautiful woman.

The Web by Janet Kruskamp
The Web   (California)
Bicentennial Collection

©1972 Janet Kruskamp

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