JEFF KRAUS: The ambiguous world of enigmatic domains

Simple shapes, large swaths of color and quasi-patterns dominate the abstract landscapes of Jeff Kraus’ canvases. 

But the 31-year-old Grand Rapidian doesn’t want to tell you how to interpret his work. Rather, Kraus enjoys “the fact that each person can look at it and associate different things from their life onto it.” The art, which has been shown in galleries from Los Angeles to New York, is meant to be experienced rather than deciphered.

For the last two years, Kraus shared a studio space with local vintage furniture store Hunt & Gather. There, his large pieces caught the eyes of unsuspecting customers, destined to find themselves temporarily lost in a multifaceted world of his design. Now, Hunt & Gather has closed up shop and Kraus is returning to his former studio at 1111 Godfrey Ave. That is, once he gets back from touring (as drummer) with his avant-garde post-punk band, Child Bite, from Detroit. Here’s his story.


Are there any common themes throughout your work?

Fear, loneliness, contentment, anxiety … because that is what I know and experience as a human.  Life is full of uncertainty.


What inspires you, both in life and art?

Obviously, being a musician, music inspires me most. Performing live music is such an emotional release. I channel that same type of release in my studio. I almost never work in silence, oftentimes listening to the same record on repeat several days in a row.


What else goes into your artistic process?

‘Fogs of Color’

We asked Jeff Kraus to describe his work to someone new. Never one to boast, Kraus deferred to his friend Mag Kim’s elegant characterization:

“From afar, each painting is a fog of color, haunting and absorbing. Tiny drawings are either painted onto the forefront or scratched into the surface, cutting through layers of paint and exposing the remnants of old colors, worn and hidden away. The drawings are strange and intentionally amateur, as if drawn by the non-dominant hand. These skinny, messy lines can look like skinny houses, trees or electrical towers, giving depth to the arrangement of brush strokes and impressionably eerie tone.”

Lots and lots of looking, whether it be staring out of the van window while on tour, taking the dog for a walk, riding my bike, sitting in the yard. I bring all of that back into the studio. Due to my full-time touring schedule, I work in concentrated blasts when home. … I work through several ideas on multiple surfaces all at once, constantly bouncing back and forth. It is a controlled chaos. 


What do you want people to experience with your art?

It’s an interesting thing, because I’m making these things I want people to care about and enjoy, but then I’m also terrified to be in the limelight. I think it comes out in the paintings a little, where I’m not telling people exactly what they’re supposed to be looking at or exactly what’s going on behind the work. ... It’s not necessarily like, “This is how you’re supposed to react to it. This is what it means.” I want to have a broad interpretation to it. Everything’s kind of masked with layers.


What are the ups and downs of being an artist in Grand Rapids?

Studio space is very affordable and there is a great community of artists working alongside each other. (But) there needs to be more people showing work in galleries and more awareness of what is happening in the city besides ArtPrize. There are several galleries on South Division Avenue that I feel don’t get the attention they deserve.


You’ve been doing this for quite some time now. How has your work changed? 

My work is constantly evolving. The more I create, the more I learn what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I rework old paintings and ideas to help push them forward. A lot of the work I make goes into storage for months to years. I like to bring it back out after I have forgotten about it and present it as something new. 


What are you working on now?

I am taking a break from the usual and exploring a new body of work using spray paint on plastic stretched like canvas. The work investigates ideas that I hope add to the current conversation in contemporary painting. I don’t want to give too much away. I am looking to show the work in a local gallery early next year.  


And what’s next after that?

I always want to be working on things that challenge and frustrate me.  If it’s too easy, it’s boring. I don’t ever want to do things just because that is what has worked in the past and I know will work in the future. If I already knew what I wanted to be working on in the future, there would be no point in making it.


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