Originally published in Southwest Art, June
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,
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
“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
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.