Jason Sacran | The Excitement of Painting

Jason Sacran reveals and illuminates the many facets of the landscape

By Elizabeth L. Delaney

Jason Sacran, Midday Storms, oil, 14 x 18.

Jason Sacran, Midday Storms, oil, 14 x 18.

This story was featured in the February 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

When it comes to landscapes, Arkansas painter Jason Sacran feels at home in almost any setting that speaks to him—from a rocky coastal vista to a snowy forest to an empty street corner at night. His luminous oil compositions, in turn, capture the life and intimacy of each space he paints, whether dark or light, vast or compact. While his work evokes the essence of place, as well as the dazzling colors and light that define it, it also teems with the spirit and enthusiasm of the artist, who considers his painting sites hallowed ground. Sacran’s pieces project energy, both in the overt movements of crashing waves and lightning strikes, and in the subtle glow of light reflections or the quiet stillness of the forest.

Truly an artist at heart, Sacran has been drawing since he could first hold a pencil. Growing up in a small town in middle Tennessee didn’t afford the young artist any opportunities for formal art instruction. In spite of that, he maintained the self-discipline and desire to persevere, drawing on his own and learning from the objects around him. He looked at bodybuilding and sports magazines to understand anatomy and even set up his He-Man figurines as models. “I drew a lot—thousands and thousands of drawings before college,” he says.

Sacran didn’t have his aspirations set on becoming a professional artist, however, until his senior year of high school, when his guidance counselor submitted his drawings to a commercial art school in Nashville. Not only was Sacran accepted solely on artistic merit, but he also received a scholarship.

After several semesters building his commercial skills, Sacran decided to pursue fine art in earnest and transferred to Tennessee Tech University, where he exchanged his pencils for paintbrushes and ventured into a new medium with which he felt an immediate connection. He earned a bachelor’s degree in painting and went on to take additional classes toward his master’s at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Eventually, Sacran and his wife settled in Fort Smith, AR, where he worked for several years as the curator at the Fort Smith Art Center.

With a drive to create and solid encouragement from his wife, Sacran started painting full time in 2009. He secured gallery representation and began winning prizes at national plein-air competitions. Today he and his family continue to make their home in Fort Smith, a region Sacran enjoys living in and painting. And while local and regional subject matter remains his favorite to interpret in two dimensions, he also takes the opportunity to paint while traveling the country for plein-air events. He attends these frequently, participating in up to eight a year from the East Coast to the West. He especially loves the California terrain, remarking, “There’s nothing like that rugged Pacific coast.”

Sacran taught art as an adjunct professor for three years at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith, and for the past 10 years he has led workshops all over the United States in plein-air and figurative painting. He has produced an instructional video on painting the effects of light as well. Sacran is a member of the Oil Painters of America and a signature member of the American Impressionist Society. Perhaps most notably, he has won Best of Show awards at the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational and Plein Air Rockies in 2016, and at Plein Air Easton and the Olmsted Plein Air Invitational in 2015.

Initially, Sacran began painting landscapes at the invitation of friends who asked him along on a plein-air excursion. He accepted, assuming that his aptitude for painting figures would convert easily into landscapes. But he quickly realized that wasn’t the case. “That was the worst experience of my life,” says Sacran with a chuckle. “I felt like a 5-year-old.” Still, he persisted, and he quickly grew enthralled with plein-air encounters. “I fell in love with going outside and painting,” he says. “When I went outside and started painting, just being outside in nature, everything started lining up. Everything felt more intuitive, responsive. There was something there that I had been missing.”

Almost a decade has passed since that first outing, and Sacran still gets “giddy,” he says, when it’s time to pack up his paints, brushes, and boards and head out to create. Spending time in the beautiful, and sometimes offbeat, places he discovers conjures a special connectivity for the artist, giving him and his paintings an instinctive fulfillment that nothing else does.

Sacran views painting outside as being “like a response” to his surroundings, as opposed to painting in his studio, which feels “more like a plan,” he says. Plein-air painting satisfies his need for spontaneity, experimentation, and an infinite number of ways to approach and realize each composition. The outdoors stimulates his senses and emphasizes the tactile nature of the art-making experience. In turn, working on-site imbues his art with an excitement and freedom that don’t materialize indoors, where he tends to approach the work from a more analytical standpoint.

To that end, Sacran spends the majority of his time painting out in the elements, relishing the physical and emotional connection of sharing his subjects’ space and completely immersing himself in his surroundings. He finds inspiration in all types of settings, painting whatever speaks to him at the time. He explains, “I find myself painting the overlooked and simultaneously familiar aspects of everyday life—scenes we pass by but rarely take the time to fully consider. In the chaos of daily life, I believe we all take the simple and familiar for granted. Sometimes it is these quiet, unadorned places that make the most worthy subjects.”

Of his creative process, Sacran says, “I go outside, and if something excites me—it could be an orchestration of light and shadow, it could just be subject matter, it could be an area that excites me and I have no idea why—I set up and look at it for a long time. Eventually I start painting.” He spends anywhere from a few hours to several weeks on a painting, routinely visiting the site multiple times.

Sacran works in oil on linen panels and paints in a variety of sizes, most recently favoring 24-by-30-inch compositions. He likes to keep his initial color palette simple and prefers to mix his own pigment variations as he works.

He composes his paintings with a combination of deliberate, detailed brushwork and simplified, sometimes impressionistic, shapes and lines. A unique clarity results from these deft juxtapositions of expressive renderings and open narratives defined by abstracted elements. He develops complex textures throughout each picture plane, with paint applications ranging from thin washes to thicker impasto swaths—at times dramatic, at times tonal, but invariably cohesive. All this results in active compositions that are aesthetically inviting with an invigorating tension throughout.

Sacran enjoys the challenge of harnessing light in his paintings—not necessarily what emanates from the light source, but the source itself. “Without light, you have nothing at all,” he says, and so he seeks to dissect the concentrated energy found at the origin of both natural and manmade light sources, including the sun, lightning bolts, a series of streetlights, or a bare bulb in a garage. “That intense light source has been a challenge and fun to figure out,” says Sacran. His nocturnes are perhaps the most emphatic example of how he has explored this idea. In these paintings, one powerful locus illuminates the scene dramatically yet delicately. The penetrating lights are grounded yet also fluid, expected while surprising. And in fact, the same might be said of Sacran’s body of work overall.

“Composition and design in general are definitely things I think about and like to push,” Sacran says. He employs a variety of perspectives and arrangements within his work, again eschewing a prescribed set of rules to follow whatever creative path speaks to him in the moment. While he appreciates, and has learned from, such aesthetic standards as the golden ratio or rule of threes, he also seeks new approaches based on each individual painting. In this manner, he can extrapolate and investigate on an intuitive level rather than a purely cerebral one, to gain a deeper understanding of both the subject itself and how to internalize and then translate that subject in a dynamic, engaging way using his own artistic filter. He welcomes this, not only as a way to further develop his craft, but also as a way to keep himself excited and challenged.

Sacran’s thirst for painting the landscape from a uniquely liberated viewpoint has led him to broaden his processes and refine his style continually throughout the course of his blossoming career. He has become a more confident artist over the years, he says, unafraid to take creative risks, all the while embracing the ups and downs inherent in such a process. “There’s more of an honesty, a truth,” he says of his most recent work. “It’s like I’m really searching, seeing things differently. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and that’s okay.”

Anderson Fine Art Gallery, St. Simons Island, GA; Brazier Gallery, Richmond, VA; New Masters Gallery, Carmel, CA; Oh-Be-Joyful Gallery, Crested Butte, CO; The Mission Gallery, St. George, UT; Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA.

This story was featured in the February 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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