Stepping over the threshold of Robert Kraut’s studio is an instant “freeze in place” and “wow.”
The space takes up the whole first floor of a converted duplex north of downtown Spokane. Even the backyard, grass free for the most part, is alive with metal scraps turned into organic-looking growths.
When asked where he and his wife, Linda, live, he points upward. “There’s an apartment upstairs,” he said. “It’s kind of like a college dorm.”
Actually it’s quaint and comfortable, but the real magic happens downstairs where color runs rampant and where Kraut creates sculptural pieces, drawings and what he calls “paintskins.”
Kraut has a rich history as an artist. He began right out of high school at a small screen printing company in Spokane where he made billboard signs and posters by hand. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts and then a Master of Arts from Eastern Washington University, where he also taught for a while.
His work won best of show in the 28th annual Juried Spokane Art Exhibit. He had a one-man show at the MAC (then Cheney Cowles State Museum) and his work was purchased by the museum and the city of Spokane.
In 1977, he moved to New York and became established with exhibitions and reviews. While experimenting with paint, he discovered his “paintskins,” solid sheets of paint that he reverse paints on glass, then peels the 1/8-inch-thick skins off and mounts them onto hardboard with the smooth side out. The final piece is a collage of sorts, filled with texture and layers depicting everything from otherworldly flowers to unique planets.
In 1994, Kraut moved back to Spokane after a fire in his home/studio in New York and to care for elderly family members. Now, he works in his studio every day, mixing and forming paint or drawing or finding something interesting to do with empty tubes of paint or Popsicle sticks, playing with mixed metaphors and anthropomorphic images.
In his studio there are paintskins everywhere sticking to everything – colors and shapes, planets, foliage, faces, and textured patterns. Leaning against a wall is a large piece illustrating a beautiful moon in a beautiful sky reflecting on rippling water. Feet at the bottom indicate that a man is standing there; what he’s doing is left to the viewer. “Every moment is a moment of reflection,” Kraut said.
Currently, the walls of the Kress Gallery in River Park Square are filled with Kraut’s work. The show, called “Then and Now,” consists of 34 drawings, serigraphs, and acrylic on paper highlighting periods of his development as an artist from the 1970s to now. Two of the pieces, “Last Page of Dual Movement” and “Awaiting a New Direction,” represent the time he vowed to himself not to be tagged or identified with any other artist, subject matter, style or method.
“I did away with subject matter and concentrated on developing my own processes and means of expression,” he said. From his drawings to his paintskins, what his means of expression does is capture “wow” moments and moments of reflection.