By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer

Thinking of art

Rusty Rae/News-Register
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Jason Berrier used to paint dark, somber images, but now both his art and his outfits are much brighter.  Berrier uses oil paints to depict both realistic and abstract images. He grew up in a creative household, he said, but his artistic sensibilities really were awakened in college.

 
Rusty Rae/News-Register ## Jason Berrier used to paint dark, somber images, but now both his art and his outfits are much brighter.  Berrier uses oil paints to depict both realistic and abstract images. He grew up in a creative household, he said, but his artistic sensibilities really were awakened in college.  

Oil painter Jason Berrier likes to make art, look at art, think about art and talk about art. For the latter passion, he has the perfect day job: He’s a bartender at Golden Valley Brewery in McMinnville.

Talking to the people who come to the bar keeps his mind active, he said. They have lively discussions about all sorts of topics. “Golden Valley gives me a platform to talk about what they love, what their passions are, what interests them,” he said.

His own passions, art and literature, are frequent topics. “I have deep thoughts about art,” he said, “but I also just do it for beauty.”

For much of his artistic career, the self-taught painter said, “I’d make dark, sad, introspective paintings,” he said. The darkness was due, in part, to his efforts to paint something “significant” and important.

“I was young; I wanted to make something different and unique,” he added. “Like a lot of (fledgling) artists, I had the attitude ‘you can’t succeed without a struggle.’”

Then his mother asked him for a painting.

“She wanted something light and beautiful, so I did that,” he said. “I didn’t want to make my mom sad.”

His work now runs the gamut in mood and style. He’s always exploring and learning, he said. He values “learning, growing, creating, using different techniques.”

Some of those techniques involve technology, from using projections to first photographing his subjects, in addition to working with color, shape, light and form.

Techniques in place, “I can focus on emotion … push farther than realism.”

While he has painted for many years, Berrier said he has really been an artist for only part of that time. At first, he said, “I could see what I was trying to do, but I couldn’t make it,” he said. “In the last five years, I can.”

He explained, “Good vs. great art is the ability to depict emotion. People can learn to draw or paint; learn the skills,” he said, “but an artist is able to infuse work with his voice.”

Berrier grew up in rural Indiana surrounded by arts and crafts. His mother, a master quilter, encouraged her children to look at color and shape. He and his sister painted with watercolors and made latch-hook rugs.

He completed his first oil painting when he was 16 or 17 as a gift for his mom, who was hospitalized with a serious illness.

“I sat outside and painted the sun, orange and yellow,” he recalled. “It was a traumatic time, and I was working on a perfect sphere.”

His mother recovered fully; she and his dad now live near him in rural Newberg. He went to college at Purdue University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature.

At the same time, his artistic sense was awakening, he said.

“I was seeing things in ways I hadn’t seen” while growing up in a sheltered environment, he said. “It opened my mind; it was pivotal. I was exposed to different people, different views, different ethnicities. I was around creative stuff, painters, artists…”

He wrote poetry and took creative writing classes. Then he decided to write novels, the first of which would be about a painter.

An admirer of Hemingway, he wanted to understand his characters from the inside out. “I had to become a painter in order to become a writer,” he said.

It wasn’t a stretch. “I was doing the art side anyway,” he said, recalling how he sometimes showed up for his poetry classes with a painting to describe, rather than a finished poem.

After college, he moved to Florida with his girlfriend to get away from the cold Midwest. But the relationship fizzled, and he was left adrift.

“I called my closest friend, Matthew,” he said, thinking back to 2002. “He had been sent to Portland by his company and bought a condo, and now he was back in Arizona and it was empty. He offered to let me use it.”

Grabbing the chance for a fresh start, Berrier drove across the country with his cat, weathering three car breakdowns along the way. He found a temporary job at the Olive Garden while getting settled.

“Portland had so much culture, music, art,” he recalled. “I visited so many galleries. I walked, experienced the nightlife…”

He realized his “Bohemian fantasy,” as well: “Live poor, create art.”

He became friends with a coworker, Shana, who later would become his wife. “She is so amazing,” he said, describing their life together as “a family-first kind of thing.”

Eager for children, they welcomed twin boys, Locke and Sterling. Their sons are “pretty much the sunshine in the day,” he said.

The Berriers moved from Portland to Newberg, “a better place to raise their family,” he said. It also has an area for a “creative room” for both his painting and the boys’ coloring, drawing and Lego projects.

As children of two avid readers, the twins read a lot themselves. Their mother reads to them every night, as well. Sterling and Locke recently signed up for the third-grade Battle of the Books at their school.

Berrier has shown his art in some small Portland galleries, and is looking forward to exhibiting at the McMinnville Grange sometime soon. Most of his sales are from word-of-mouth contacts these days.

He often does commissions, which he finds challenging — something he loves.

“They make you grow,” he said, recalling being asked to paint a wide range of subjects, from a bright field of flowers to his own version of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper;” he said the latter required a lot of research, as well as the use of a magnifying glass as he painted tiny faces.

“Commissions push me to do something I usually wouldn’t do,” he said.

When he’s not working on commissions, he said, he’s often inspired by “contemplative thought” as well as changes in the seasons and Yamhill County scenery in general. “I can’t drive to work without being in awe how beautiful it is here,” he said.

He’s also inspired by his materials. “I love buying new paint,” he said.

His family is an inspiration, as well. He recently captured a photo of one of his sons with their sleeping puppy, and turned that into a painting.

Berrier paints in a variety of styles, from impressionism to realism. He makes portraits, landscapes and, in recent years, is exploring abstractions.

He works on multiple paintings at a time. “If I’m in a quiet mood, I work on a portrait,” he said. “If I’m feeling more aggressive, an abstract.”

Before he picks up his paintbrush, he turns on some music. He’s a fan of ‘90s music, indie rock, the Dandy Warhols and other bands. He makes sure to listen to newer music, he said; “I try to stay contemporary.”

Berrier has been tending bar at Golden Valley for eight years. While he loves having time to paint and to be with his family, he said he also enjoys working on Tuesday afternoons, Wednesdays and midday Thursdays.

He likes to meet and talk with both locals and tourists. “To have a chance to get exposed to all these people is amazing,” he said.

Working with the Golden Valley staff is equally enjoyable. Many are young, he said, “and they help me stay current.”

Co-workers and customers alike are supportive of his art, he said.

“Everyone wants me to succeed and be happy,” he said. “To have people who really care, who want to go out of the way to help you succeed … that fills me.

“I don’t think I could live anywhere else anymore. Yamhill County is my home, where my friends and family are. I get to see people I love daily.”

The dark, brooding stage of his art is over now. It remains “an important part of my evolution,” he said, but it’s behind him — even though his basement is partly filled with the paintings that are evidence of that era.

“At this point in my life, it would be hard to be grumpy,” he said. “I have a great wife, a great job and a great family.

“I know I can make art and be happy, too,” he said. “I’m playing the long game. My best creative work is yet to come.”

 

 

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