Not many artists these days endeavor to start their own artistic school. Eugene painter Jerry Ross, though, has just enough romantic flair in his soul to set himself up as the head of a movement that could have grown out of 19th century Italy.
Don’t believe me? Check Wikipedia, which gives a history of American Verismo that includes the work of Ross and his students at Maude Kerns Art Center. You can even find a Manifesto of American Verismo on Ross’ website.
Basically, we’re talking a loose, impressionistic style of plein air painting that actually did originate in Italy a few years before the more famous French impressionists took up the practice. Ross, a confirmed Italophile and long-time art activist — he founded the now defunct Salon des Refuses years ago in response to the Mayor’s Art Show — has been practicing and teaching this style of painting for years. And he does know what he’s doing with a paint brush.
So do at least five of his students — Victoria Biedron, Jean Denis, Jaqueline Hamer Lukowski, Patti McNutt and Sally Schwader.
The work of this Macchia Six — Ross has always managed a slight political edge to his art, as with this title — makes a delicious landscape show that’s on exhibit at the Jacobs Gallery, in the bottom level of the Hult Center downtown, through May 2.
It’s a quiet, thoughtful show, one that’s easy to like. And with six participating artists, it has a lot of paintings; many are hung salon style, one above another on the gallery walls.
The paintings here — of trees, mountains, roads and sky — are enough alike in construction and sensibility that, at least at a casual glance, I probably couldn’t tell one painter in the show from another without the wall cards identifying the artists.
Their palettes are similar, if not entirely the same, woven from earth tones with a few hints of warm purple. The paint surface is pretty uniformly thin and matte. Strokes are bold. “Macchia” turns out to mean “stain,” referring to the loose construction of this style of work, starting with blotches.
Ross is not a painter I’d ever accuse of being commercial, but working in this kind of impressionist style, with an Italian flavor thrown in, might be just right for the local market, and I hope the show sells a lot. The images are local, but have a slightly exotic tinge, offering a richer version of the California impressionism that’s been so popular for so long in the West.
Two of my favorites are Patti McNutt’s Willamette Rhapsody, which perfectly captures a quiet stretch of water and surrounding trees, and Victoria Biedron’s View From a Train — the title could belong to a novel — which alone in this show full of nature offers a glimpse of industrial darkness surrounding railroad track.