Pacing through his vast studio, Jason Keusch has prepared his many collages and acrylic paintings for his solo show “Intro to Varhaus,” debuting Saturday at the META Collective art gallery in Old Town.
“Varhaus is the Germanization of the word warehouse. It reminds me that I am doing commerce, working and making things with my own hands to sell to individuals in a simple way,” said Keusch, who has never formally trained to be a professional artist.
A culinary artisan by profession, he was executive chef of Troppo in downtown Lansing until four years ago. He professed that the change was initiated by one very simple reason.
“I ran out of reasons as to why I was doing what I was doing. I needed a new ‘Why,’ so I took a sabbatical for four months, during which I attended a retreat at a Trappist monastery,” Keusch said.
The Trappist monastery he visited is in Bardstown, Kentucky, and is the oldest monastery of its kind still operating in the United States.
Keusch spent most of his time in the monastery’s library, poring over books by the monk, activist and author Thomas Merton, along with G.K Chesterton, the English writer and philosopher. Also included in his reading list were various texts on introversion and contemplation, abundant in a monastic library.
“I wanted to lay the foundation for something new to grow,” Keusch said.
Grow it did, and everything he did thereafter was based on Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed the patterns of this world.”
This recurring reference is visible everywhere, from his T-shirts that say “12:2” to his highly contemplative work, all of which are part of his upcoming exhibit.
He avoids over-intellectualizing his work. Included in the show are pieces which showcase his strong Michigan roots, along with highly contemplative abstract pieces.
“I basically do three kinds of work: The first kind is collage, which takes a lot of planning and is very literal,” Keusch said. “The second is acrylic and epoxy pouring, in which you prepare the colors, but you really don’t have that much time to manipulate; you have to be in the moment to do it.”
“The juxtaposition of these two completely different kinds of paintings in the show is very interesting. Jason builds those paintings,” said Greg Zivic, co-founder of META Collective.
Zivic and his partner, Trisha Wilcox, first met Keusch at Troppo, and have followed his journey ever since — from his time at the monastery to becoming an artist.
“As he started painting and showing me his work, I was struck by how cohesive his body of work looked for an artist without any formal training,” Zivic said.
The show not only has "provisional," or casual pointing, pieces, which might not have a big market in the Lansing area, but also affordable, limited edition reproduction prints of posters, t-shirts and other merchandise.
Also carried over from Keusch’s time as a chef at Troppo is his association with the Greater Lansing Food Bank.
“You can purchase a $20 ticket for the chance to win a custom piece of art created by Jason. The winner will receive a custom 24 x 36 painting, and the cost of each ticket is a donation to the GLFB,” said Keusch’s manager, Jennifer Calery.
Talking about his favorite collage, featuring Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister from the English heavy metal band Motörhead, along with a host of nostalgic imagery, Keusch explained the underlying philosophy encompassing his work.
“Lemmy is my favorite. He is kind of a badass. One of his most famous sayings was, ‘I’m 49 percent motherfucker and 51 percent son of a bitch.’ He was irreverent, but also a smart person who touched and affected a lot of people in a positive way,” Keusch said.
“In my work, you find a certain kind of irreverence, and as the famous Father Jake Foglio said, ‘To be reverent you must have some irreverence to know the difference.’” Keusch described a third kind of work as “furniture,” which takes longer to make than the first two kinds, using acrylic based colors with multiple layers of various media.
This kind can be seen in his third show at the East Arbor Architecture and Plus Gallery in December.
East Arbor also hosted Keusch's first ever show, “In God We Rust,” which was a phenomenal success where Keusch sold 75 percent of the work in the show.
“Emotions that his works evoke are very powerful,” said Amanda Harrell-Seyburn, curator of the gallery and one half of the duo at East Arbor Architecture.
“Intro to Varhaus” Opening Reception
Free Saturday, Oct. 13, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. META Collective Gallery 718 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing www.metacollectiveart.com email@example.com