‘Art is thrilling’

John Straub quit painting for many years before picking up the brush again; now, he can’t stop

This piece is one of John Straub’s first paintings. He has always been motivated by his love of the outdoors.

Mary Owen
This piece is one of John Straub’s first paintings. He has always been motivated by his love of the outdoors.

Art is John Straub’s greatest passion. It started in his early years growing up in Lincoln City, and continues today.

“My nanny cultivated my interest by taking me on exploratory walks along the coast and teaching me about the commonality of life’s objects,” Straub says. “She encouraged me to look at the details as well as the whole. She managed to heighten my awareness of the environment, and showed the relationships of objects and patterns they contained. She pointed to the reality of things I saw, and how to see beyond the surface. Nothing was spared from my view.”

Straub says his nanny taught him that everything is integrated and how to see beyond the immediate surface into the complexity beneath.

“When it came time for drawing, she demonstrated using a circular motion for imparting subtle effects,” he says. “That was pretty advanced stuff for a kid.”

Motivated by his childhood love of the ocean and his desire to paint, Straub attended The Art Institute of Portland for two years, one year at Portland State University, and then two years at the Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University) in Monmouth.

“Up until then, art was strictly a matter of techniques and tools,” he says. “But the last year at OCE, I had decided on teaching art. By that time, I had too many credits in art and nothing else.”

Looking at spending five additional years, with no guarantee of being assigned to an art position, led Straub to change direction.

“I went to Ohio and joined a friend in the glass business,” he says. “As we shared the same view of aesthetics, it was very comforting. The abstract and conceptual movements were in full swing, and some of my strongest pieces were created.”

The partnership ended after two years, and Straub returned to Oregon where he was employed for three years at F&G Stained Glass, seven years with Double Q Printing, and 11 years at Norvac Electronics.

“I did no art during most of this 20-year period,” he says. “In fact, I had no intention or desire to do any more art.”

But to relieve stress from his job at Norvac, he began to paint a room mural at his Salem home.

“It felt perfectly natural,” he says. “It was a fantasy format, which made the transition from not painting to painting again very easy.”

A stroke temporarily sidetracked Straub and led to his early retirement from Norvac.

“It was serious at the time, but is unnoticeable now,” he says of his stroke. “That left a lot of time for me.”

Straub began to paint a diorama of one of the nation’s atomic test sites, involving a fleet of naval ships. His next series – fantasy and abstract – was of battleships.

“I’ve done more in the last five years than all the years before,” says Straub, who had a showing at a local art gallery and has sold a few of his pieces privately.

“I’d love to help others, primarily in developing the core that is fundamental in art — the ability to use abstract thought,” he says. “One misunderstood opinion that I would like to convey is that recognizable subject matter isn’t superior to something abstract. Many people regard modern art as undertaken because the artist lacks the ability to draw something really difficult. People have looked at Picasso’s work and said he couldn’t draw. There is nothing further from the truth.”

Straub, who considers philosophy and theory to be as important as the actual creation of art, wants to change that view.

“Idea is the most important aspect of art,” he says. “I reject the idea that one is born with the ‘gift’ or there is some magic an artist uses. The majority of people only see the surface, and dwell on the technical side of art. A vast chasm comes between them and the artist. They look to critics and monetary issues to decide what is good. So some art goes into museums, and the remainder is misunderstood or ignored. I believe anyone can, and should, do art.”

Straub believes in a logical approach to art: being aware of objects in nature, embracing new ideas, and having a desire to experiment.

“Striving to duplicate what one sees, laboring with techniques to perfect the image, isn’t the definition of art for me,” he says. “I believe in creating art for art’s sake, abandoning any desire to create a masterpiece or become famous.”

Straub also believes in expressing what his mind sees, leaping beyond reality to creating abstracts that engage viewers, opening their creative minds.

“The old masters painted their still lives so realistically that the birds were fooled trying to pick the fruit,” he says. “When you reach that level, where do you go from there?”

Straub hopes to motivate others to pick up a brush and express themselves, just as he has done since retiring.

“Anyone can learn to create artistically,” he says. “The mechanics are easy. The execution is the challenge.”

Regardless of which stage his work is in, Straub says he is usually very excited and confident.

“Egotism aside, I also feel like I’m contributing something important, something important for me, than for anyone else who happens to see it,” he says. “Art is thrilling in the same way as watching a good movie or starting an intriguing novel. I enjoy being so absorbed that the surrounding world is blotted out. I can’t imagine not being involved in art. Physically, or at least conceptually.”

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