When Jon Jay Cruson heads into nature to find inspiration for his large acrylic landscapes, he brings only a Sharpie and a pad of paper. Once he’s scouted the perfect spot — perhaps a patch of grass along a hillside, at a tall enough height to see the geometric plots of farmland spread on the valley floor below — he sketches a series of loose lines.
“The process takes maybe a minute,” Cruson says. After bringing a small stack of sketches back to his Eugene studio, Cruson begins the process of transforming the drawings into those large acrylic paintings. He works without a time limit, instead allowing each piece to develop organically as he sees fit. Sometimes this takes a couple days, other times a month.
The result is a series of impressively vast landscape pieces with a pastel palette reminiscent of a 1960s ice cream truck. Cruson’s work leans toward the abstract, though his pieces feel familiar to anyone who’s spent time along the rural west coast.
“I’ve never worked from photographs,” Cruson says. “It feels too restrictive.”
Instead, Cruson relies on a lifetime of experience spent outdoors in California and Oregon. He grew up in Woodland, a town outside of Sacramento, “amongst the tomatoes, the wheat, the barley.” His work brings to mind the “wide open spaces and bright skies” of his childhood.
Cruson attended the University of Oregon, graduating in 1967 with a master of fine arts in painting, drawing and printmaking. When one of his professors left the university on sabbatical, he took over teaching a class on lithography — a classical printmaking process in which an image is drawn on a plastic or metal plate with an oily polymer coating, and then transferred to paper.
Cruson’s experience teaching allowed him to help develop his own style as an artist. “I find teaching extremely rewarding,” he says. “You see students approach art and their work in ways you’d never thought of.”
After he left teaching, Cruson went on to open his own litho studio in Corvallis, which he maintained for 37 years.
Although his current work is created using acrylic paint, the geometric shapes and contrasting lines of Cruson’s landscapes reflect his extensive background in printmaking. The magic in Cruson’s work lies not in detailed depictions of each tree and riverbend, but in the general curves of a valley terrain that somehow feels intimate to each viewer.
An exhibition of 13 of Jon Cruson’s paintings is on display at White Lotus Gallery at 767 Willamette Street until Dec. 31. The gallery remains open during the pandemic with masks and social-distancing required indoors. Hours are 10 am to 4 pm Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment. More info at WLotus.com.