The Verve: DeRoulet strives to capture ‘aesthetic arrest’ on canvas

Artist John deRoulet, who studied art at Gonzaga University, stands with some of his work in his studio Monday. (Jesse Tinsley)
Artist John deRoulet, who studied art at Gonzaga University, stands with some of his work in his studio Monday. (Jesse Tinsley)

While a female subject sits comfortably in a chair, John deRoulet stands at an easel and studies her.

He holds up a viewfinder and peers through it before marking the canvas. As he works with quick and steady brush strokes, he occasionally pauses to squint at the model and hold up a pencil horizontally and then vertically, memorizing the distance of one facial feature to another.

It is just a short sitting but, when he’s finished, the final product is a good representation of the model with a hint of the artist himself.

“Artists tend to put some of themselves in their work,” he said, “if only a feeling.”

He likes to work with live models and still-lifes because, to him, a picture ends up looking too much like a picture. His goal is to capture “aesthetic arrest,” a term used by James Joyce in his book “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”

“It’s about emotion coming first when faced with beauty,” deRoulet said. “Intellect and ego come later,” adding that he wants to make beautiful paintings regardless of the subject – everything from a dried artichoke to the human face.

DeRoulet grew up in Bothell, Wash. In high school, he enjoyed science, writing and social studies. An art history class introduced him to art. He went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in fine art and a minor in philosophy from Gonzaga University.

Now, in a sense, art is his philosophy, a notion he eloquently explains on his website: “I work to show how every ordinary object and situation can be a vessel and expression of that which is uniquely human. In my work, I struggle to undermine the superficiality of the commonplace with intensity of emotional expression; revealing how any object can become the symbol and source manifesting the collective experiences of our species.”

Using graphite on paper or oil on canvas, deRoulet studies and then represents the arresting beauty of the seemingly mundane, including gnarled roots, natural earth and rock formations, a ravaged pomegranate or a lone dress draped over a pink chair. His portraits contain striking flashes of emotion and depth.

“What’s beautiful about people is what they can endure,” he said.

For a few years, deRoulet shared art with children as the art program coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club of Spokane County, where he still volunteers. Currently, he is working for a local start-up company and studying people and objects from behind an easel. You can see his work at Taste, 180 S. Howard St., through April and at the Chase Gallery in City Hall through the end of March.

At 25, deRoulet is still searching for something, but he doesn’t know what.

For now, he said, “I will just continue to work at the things that appeal to me. I feel as if the material itself still has many things to teach me.”

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