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Young painter shares unique approach to painting, thoughts on art

Jeff Kraus shares a bit about himself, his process and his ideas on art after his first series "Conditions" closes at Gaspard.
Work from the "Conditions" series by Jeff Kraus

Work from the "Conditions" series by Jeff Kraus /Courtesy of Jeff Kraus

Where to find Kraus next

Summer Corridor Series : Jeff Kraus at Saugatuck Center for the Arts

Free opening reception on August 8, 6 - 8 p.m.

Gallery open August 8 - September 4, 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and during weekend and evening events. 

Admission is free. 

More Info

The warehouse studio on 1111 Godfrey SW

The warehouse studio on 1111 Godfrey SW /Emilie Pichot

The artist by a few of his works in his warehouse studio

The artist by a few of his works in his warehouse studio /Emilie Pichot

“Painting is this magical thing,” says Jeff Kraus. “I think people fantasize painters, or something. They’re like creating these masterpieces.”

Standing in his warehouse studio on Godfrey, I am surrounded by Kraus’ paintings, smelling the fresh paint and taking in his trademark color patches and playful abstract sketches.

“The symbols are very repetitive,” he says. “I’ve been using them for the last three years now and they just keep evolving.”

The symbols Kraus uses are inspired by Sam Rodia’s Watts Towers in California or any other tower or dome shape. His goal is to make them more and more abstract by repeatedly taking them apart.

“I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was kid but then I realized I couldn’t draw,” Krauss shares, laughing. “I just can’t draw. I can’t draw representationally. You gotta break it down. Really simplify.”

Krauss doesn’t sketch beforehand.

“I just go for it,” he says.

In college, Kraus failed his Intro to Painting class, but he persisted and eventually was given the freedom to paint in the abstract expressionist style that he likes best.

Krauss grew up in the Kalamazoo area, painting at a very young age.

“I just wanted to try it, really. I had a history with house paint. When I was younger, it was a family business, residential commercial painting so I was like super familiar with latex paint. I did that for three or fours years when I was a kid. It was my first job. That’s obviously why I use house paint since I’m so familiar with it. It’s kind of reminiscent of painting walls and buildings.”

Today, Kraus is showing all over Michigan. He recently had an exhibit at Gaspard, and currently has work up at the UICA, Green Well and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. The first week of August he will have an exhibit at the Saugatuck Center of the Arts. He has sold prints to people all over the world, including Australia and Israel, through his Etsy site.

Besides painting, Kraus also makes pizza, plays in a punk band and is a printmaker.

He currently works at CVLT Pizza downtown six days a week. He is the drummer in the band Jowls and recently played at Pyramid Scheme.

Although Kraus says his music doesn’t directly inspire his art, he does see similarities.

“My paintings are pretty aggressive and our music is pretty aggressive so you could say I take a punk approach to painting,” he says, grinning mischievously.

As a printmaker, Kraus takes a very active approach, having worn printing plates on his shoes across campus to make the marks.

“All of my work is super process oriented. That’s why there are so many layers,” he says. It's clear Kraus is passionate about printmaking.

“It’s so rich in history,” he says.

His paintings are also rich in history to a certain extent, being painted on older, used canvases. Krauss is also creative in his use of paint and color, reusing old house paint.  

“I do everything as cheap as I possibly can. All of these are mis-tints: like this can is a dollar; this whole bucket was five dollars. People will have a custom color made and then they don’t like the color and they bring it back but Lowes is forced to sell it for super cheap. The color in my work is very haphazard. I kind of get stuck on a color and try to find them again but once they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s fun to figure out how to use all this stuff.”

Kraus’ definition of art is pretty broad, he says.

“You could break it down to just like any form of expression. I don’t even know if you have to make something, you can just have ideas and that’s art. I think that’s a question that the answer is the dialogue that you have about the question,” he says, this time laughing. “I think that’s how you could answer that.”

Kraus has a very down-to-earth approach to art, among other things. He trades a lot of his work with other artists. Several paintings in his warehouse studio are from trades.

“Any time I see a piece of work I like I’ll just go up to them and be like ‘Hey, you wanna trade?’” he says.

Kraus will also ask people who are interested in his paintings what they can afford so that they can have it.

“My paintings aren’t that precious,” he says. He cares more for the act of painting than the check in the mail.

In the future, Kraus hopes to go to school again. He is looking into going to the art school at the University of Michigan and studying printmaking there.

Kraus is truly in love with the simple act of picking up a brush and making a mark. His art, he says, has no grand epic story or political agenda.

“I just want to make things,” he says.

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