by Molly Rutledge
Ohio University Professor Emeritus, Ohio Arts Council Fellowship recipient, and Arts Midwest National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellow, Ron Kroutel, redefines the urban landscape in his surreal paintings.
Pink House (pictured, left), along with Green Wall and Old House/Factories, are on display, along with 60 other works by 15 Ohio artists, in the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) Riffe Gallery exhibition The Urban Landscape: A Tale of Grandeur and Abandonment through January 11, 2015.
Kroutel’s pieces at the Riffe Gallery are from a landscape painting series that one of his OAC fellowships helped support.
The series features images of comfortable modern life juxtaposed with dark, austere, and threatening environments. Melancholy symbols of suburbia blended with intimidating images of a menacing tree branch or a dominating cityscape, for example, produce a dark and ominous effect. Kroutel says he paints this way because “depressing art makes me happy.”
While his work is powerfully dark, it is surprisingly playful. Desolate intertwining highways dominate a familiar suburban home in Pink House, yet the home is gleefully pink. Kroutel’s work conveys a mood that lures in viewers then injects them with a realization of familiarity and understanding of place. While the artist’s interpretation of the urban landscape is ominous, surreal, and even detached, it is also hauntingly realistic and familiar.
Some of the images are drawn from views that are very close to home. In Pink House, the interlacing freeways in the background are views from the Arena District in Columbus, and the pink house is from a suburban Athens neighborhood—both common subjects Kroutel sketched exhaustively. Back in the studio, he uses a natural and intuitive process, beginning his paintings with multiple sketches of his surroundings. “I like to take something common and somehow transform it,” he says, explaining that he never expects or plans for his sketches to share a canvas until he returns to the studio.
Kroutel’s artistic influences are diverse and wide-ranging. While he sometimes draws and paints literal places around him, he is also greatly influenced by his past and history. He cites Chicago, where he grew up and attended college at The Chicago Art Institute, as a large influence to his work. His parents are from the Czech Republic, and having grown up among mostly immigrants and first-generation Americans makes him feel “connected to a long history.” He also found teaching extremely important to his work. “Being around young people, you can keep up with current attitudes and learn about different styles, artists, and ways of thinking,” he says.
Retired after over 30 years, Kroutel still stays involved at Ohio University by teaching a London study abroad program in the summer. Reflecting on his teaching days, he says, “It’s still not the same [as teaching full time], but it’s always a real pleasure to share knowledge about things you love.”