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Local artist and teacher Jason Mayr finds new ways to connect to his students during the pandemic

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Jason Mayr is an amazing painter whose images seem to glow from within. He also had what is arguably the best kind of art instruction, a six-year mentorship with a master painter, in this case Spanish impressionist Joseph Mendez. Understanding the importance of that kind of instruction, Mayr has been teaching one-on-one or small group classes out of his studio for years, but like everything else, the pandemic forced Mayr to pivot and innovate.

"I've been very fortunate," he said via email. "About three years ago, I began making videos for my classes with the hope of taking them online. It was a long and frustrating process figuring out cameras, editing, so when the stay-at-home orders went out, I had a small foundation to build upon. I signed up for some online classes and coaching and went into overdrive learning and creating online programs.

"At this moment," the artist continued, "we offer a course that meets six times online over four weeks. The first two weeks we do studies and the last two weeks we spend on a painting. Then we start again with the next four-week class."

Because painting is such a hands-on endeavor, you'd think online instruction would pale in comparison with person-to-person, but Mayr found some silver linings.

PAINT AND PRACTICE SLO Town artist Jason Mayr continues to create stunning chiaroscuro paintings as well as teach students online. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JASON MAYR
  • Photo Courtesy Of Jason Mayr
  • PAINT AND PRACTICE SLO Town artist Jason Mayr continues to create stunning chiaroscuro paintings as well as teach students online.

"To my and the students' surprise, teaching online has proven much more effective and efficient for everyone," he wrote. "One of my students said she got more in six weeks online than she had in the previous two years in person. Now, we were only meeting twice a month in person compared to six times a month now. But I am able to deliver the information with more clarity and efficiency over the computer than I can in person.

"They do the work on their own time and then send in a digital photo. I can work on their painting, showing and telling them what's next and clarifying any misunderstandings," Mayr continued. "And since I worked digitally on their painting, the painting itself is unaffected, so the student can then attempt to execute my suggestions. It really is a program I wish was available to me as a student. To our amazement, we've also been able to create a strong sense of community in the class even though it's all virtual."

For potential new students who don't know if they want to commit to a month-long course, Mayr has a solution.

"The second program we're currently offering is an online sketch club that's free and available to anyone with internet access," he said. "Every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday night at 6:55 p.m., we go live on our Facebook page, Mayr Studio. After a five minute introduction, we spend 20 minutes sketching—for fun. No experience necessary, and all ages welcome. We encourage people to treat it as they were taking a walk. No judgement or self-abuse, just a nice stroll. Who cares if the sketches look good or bad? It's simply about doing it.

"Once you're done, throw them away if you like. Or if you are happy with it then there's another Christmas gift checked off of your list," he continued. "I think the best part of the whole thing is that my wife, Cindy, and daughter, Izzy, do most of the sketch clubs with me. That would not have been possible before with our busy schedules."

If you go to Mayr's website, you'll see some of his students' work, and it's clear they come to him at various skill levels. Can he help anyone improve?

"Yes. There are students that have been with us over 10 years, and we have brand new students who have never painted," he said. "The continuous growth of all of them is easy to see. I've found that it's not a person's skill or lack of skill that makes a good fit with our program. It's more a matter of whether the person can be comfortable not knowing and being lost for short periods of time. As our understanding shifts, we have to let go of the beliefs that we built on our old understanding, which leaves us lost. That lost period of time is necessary in order to move from the old assumptions to the new understanding.

"We're always as supportive as we can be as a community, but each person must move through the not knowing themselves."

Mayr spent nearly two decades as an impressionist painter, but six years ago he switched style to chiaroscuro. What prompted the switch?

GANESH Mayr's interest in Eastern philosophies comes through in this painting of the Hindu remover-of-obstacles god. - COURTESY IMAGE BY JASON MAYR
  • Courtesy Image By Jason Mayr
  • GANESH Mayr's interest in Eastern philosophies comes through in this painting of the Hindu remover-of-obstacles god.

"The impressionistic style suited my enthusiasm very well for the beginning of my artistic journey," he noted. "With time, I began to crave more understanding and was growing tired of being blown here and there by enthusiastic or depressive emotion. Something more solid to stand on was what I was in search of. The chiaroscuro style seem to contain a silent stability along with plenty of the mysterious, unknowing, and unseen elements, as well as a powerful light running a melody on top of the other two forces.

"To put it plainly, I was looking for more depth in my work," Mayr wrote.

Many of his recent paintings employ impasto, especially seen in Hidden Dragon, which gives his work an almost three-dimensional effect.

"Imagine the most beautiful and profound poem you have ever heard," Mayr directed. "Now what would be the effect of that poem if you removed, flatlined, the rhythm and the tone of the orator? It all goes dry. Employing different paint qualities, glaze, thin, flat, or thick paint—in the right proportions and in the appropriate places, of course—really imbues the work with a sense of life, actuality if you will."

He's switched styles once. Would he do it again?

"Of course! I am completely uninterested in being devoted to a single style. Beauty is the muse I follow, and where she will lead I certainly do not know. There are some works of the tonalists that leave me stunned. That is a style I would like to add to my repertoire," Mayr wrote.

"In the past, I would worry if I was being ineffectual, spending my time in art while the world seemingly burned with other important issues and/or events.

"With time and a little maturity, I've come to believe that time spent in art is the most effectual thing I can do for myself and the world," he wrote. "The best art is like north on the compass of our life—always pointing the way to Beauty, even if you and everything around is in the dumps. It's precisely then that it's most important that you can see the direction to head back toward Beauty. I try to find the Beauty every day in my life and my work. In my classes, I strive to help orient everyone toward Beauty. Be Beautiful!" Δ

Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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