Jason Kappus, A Circuitous Path to Luminous Abstractions

By Shu-Ju Wang

Jason Kappus is full of contradictions. A natural-born story-teller bent on making non-narrative art; a painter who thinks of himself a writer; and a gifted portrait artist who can’t help but create non-objective, abstract work.

Below, Ode, by Jason Kappus
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Jason Kappus is a standout in other ways too. As children, almost everyone draws—that’s what we do because we have no other means of visual communication until we learn how to write. And once we acquire the skill of the written language, many give up drawing all together, leaving behind our colorful crayon lines and forms that perhaps only a parent can love.

But Jason wasn’t going to have it that way—before he could write, he dictated children’s action adventure stories to his parents (who wrote them down), and Jason illustrated them. And as a teen, he taught himself how to do portraits using graphite as the drawing medium and fashion magazines as sources . Before long, he was making technically excellent, realistic portraits. But perhaps because he was doing it on his own, without the guidance of a mature artist, he couldn’t take it to the next level. He couldn’t figure out how he could use his technical skills to create expressive work, and without the expressive component, these realistic portraits became an exercise in frustration. Impatient with how-to books and with interest and talent elsewhere, he gave up painting and returned to writing.

After moving to California and enrolling in film school to study screenwriting, he quickly ran out of money and dropped out of school, and found himself working as a lighting technician in the film industry.

It was during this time that Jason started painting again and discovered Elmer Bischoff, an abstract expressionist who returned to figurative work. The trajectory fascinated Jason—he saw in Bischoff’s path a possible way for himself to move forward. That he could use abstraction as a way of learning the painting medium without having to achieve specific goals. That he could return to figurative work with this new skill set.

But that never happened. Jason discovered that he appreciated abstract art, that he enjoyed the ability to express himself with shapes and colors. In abstraction, he finds “…a viewer has no way to judge whether the abstracts are accurate, or even if they are relevant to my initial sketch or thought, that since there is no automatic gauge to judge them by that if someone enjoys them then I have achieved a greater accomplishment.”

And although Jason hadn’t said so, I think that it is not a coincidence that he found success in painting after working first as a lighting technician. After all, the organic, luminous forms in his paintings shimmer like they have been painted with gelled lights. Each scene is orchestrated and colors carefully chosen to pulsate against and melt into each other, creating a beat, a rhythm. Using a time-consuming technique known as glazing, colors and forms are slowly built up with layers and layers of paint until the proper intensity and luminosity are achieved. The images might imply looking up at the sky, peering through the microscope or perhaps looking through dense brush, but glow they always do.

To see more of Jason’s work, visit his website at http://anonymousphenomena.blogspot.com/.

You can visit Jason and 99 other artists during the 2009 Portland Open Studios tour, October 10, 11, 17, and 18, 10am-5pm. To learn more about Portland Open Studios, visit http://www.portlandopenstudios.com. Tour guides are available at New Seasons, Art Media and other retail outlets listed on the website.

Below, a corner of Jason’s studio, with new work in progress and also older, portrait work
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