Valley artist offers unique perspective
By Leonard Crist
Jason Van Hoose, 43, of Youngstown is a successful artist known for his surreal and Gothic nature landscapes and a series of controversial portraits of former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. Louis Zona, director of the Butler Institute of American Art, said he would rank Van Hoose among the very best artists in the Mahoning Valley.
Van Hoose’s painting “Sleeping Kittens” features three sinister-looking jack-o’-lanterns sneaking up on a group of kittens and is one of his most famous. Van Hoose graduated from Youngstown State University in 1993.
Homemade biscuits and red-eye gravy — a young Jason Van Hoose couldn’t go another day eating the stuff.
The steel mills were starting to rust, and Van Hoose’s father had been laid off again. They moved around frequently but were now living in a small trailer in rural central Ohio. The family was destitute.
For literally three- straight weeks one winter in the mid-1980s, the bland, tasteless biscuits and gravy were all Van Hoose ate.
But deer season neared.
“I cannot go through an entire winter eating this crap,” he said to himself. “I’d go sick or insane.”
So Van Hoose scrimped and saved for a deer- hunting license, borrowed a gun and went about the grim task of killing to survive.
“Finally, it all culminated with me having to kill this poor animal,” he said. It made him think about “how dependent we really are on the natural world, and how saddened I was — but how grateful — for this deer crossing my path in the last two hours of deer season.”
Now a successful artist known for his surreal and Gothic nature landscapes and a series of controversial portraits of former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., Van Hoose, 43, of Youngstown, has created a body of work that is nearly inseparable from his biography.
A childhood spent in poverty-stricken rural Appalachia, an adult life spent in Youngstown and a lifelong interest in religious iconography and the supernatural are all immediately visible in paintings such as “November’s Bride,” which shows a scarecrow with a cattle’s skull dressed in a wedding gown; “St. James/The Martyr,” his most-famous painting, which has Traficant wearing a crown of thorns; and “Sleeping Kittens,” which features three jack-o’- lanterns sneaking up on a pile of kittens.
Over the years, Van Hoose, a 1993 Youngstown State University graduate, has exhibited his work in the Butler Institute of American Art and won several prizes there. The Butler’s director, Louis Zona, said he would rank Van Hoose among the very best artists in the Mahoning Valley.
“I think he’s a very creative artist, and I enjoy his work immensely,” Zona said.
That creative personality gently could be described as unusual.
Van Hoose claims to have seen an unidentified flying object as a young child, has investigated and written about paranormal encounters and says his father, a sometimes evangelical preacher, was reputed to have been the conduit for several miracles.
Van Hoose also is a staunch conspiracy theorist and considers Youngstown a city of “mysteries and secrets.”
“I kept griping about Traficant’s various conspiracies until he was indicted,” Van Hoose said. “So I was right.”
That indictment led to Van Hoose’s popular series of Traficant paintings, which, in addition to Christlike imagery, portray the former congressman piloting a flying saucer, brandishing a pistol and chomping on a stick of dynamite like a cigar.
Van Hoose said he once had a goal of getting one of his Traficant prints in every Youngstown bar and almost succeeded until the prints started getting stolen.
People even have sold bootleg T-shirts with the “St. James/The Martyr” image on them without Van Hoose’s authorization. The paintings have taken off on a life of their own, he said.
“I did that painting [‘St. James/The Martyr’] not so much as a commentary on Traficant but as a commentary on us and how we view him,” he said.
In addition to painting, Van Hoose has his own digital print-making studio, sells Idora Park memorabilia and does antique consulting.
Another recent Van Hoose venture is as the artist-in-residence at the Lemon Grove Caf , a restaurant in downtown Youngstown. Jacob Harver, the Lemon Grove’s owner, said originally he had consulted Van Hoose about just using art to decorate the walls.
Van Hoose, however, suggested making it a professional gallery capable of both showcasing and selling local artwork.
“Not only is he a remarkable artist, but he also has a great deal of wisdom,” Harver said. “Without Jason, I would have underestimated the potential” of the Lemon Grove as an art gallery.
Van Hoose believes staying in Youngstown, with its low cost of living, has afforded him a life usually unavailable to artists in bigger cities.
“I’ve lived like a snotty rich kid on an estate,” Van Hoose said. “Unfortunately, we’ve had our crime, but whatever. I’m still standing, knock on wood.”
Van Hoose has a Web site: www.rjasonvanhoose.com
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