By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Like most artists, Jean Cherouny has a routine she follows before putting paint to canvas. She goes downstairs to her makeshift studio, clears her mind of stress and gets out her supplies.
But that’s where most similarities end.
While many artists at this point would be taking a brush in hand, Cherouny purposefully snaps on her rollerblades, gently dips them into a glistening pool of paint or ink, and proceeds to glide, hop, and amble across her canvas.
It’s an unusual technique to some art purists, but there’s no denying that Cherouny’s work is getting noticed. Representatives of the South End Arts and Business Association Art Hop in Burlington have asked her to “perform” in skates and exhibit some of her paintings this year. She will, later this month, hold a demonstration at the gazebo on the Middlebury village green.
As an abstract expressionist, the Ripton artist knows her technique will draw some gasps and skepticism. But she doesn’t mind at all.
“In the art world, you have to be careful, because there is an immediate judgment — a 10-second reflection — and they either like what you’ve done or they don’t like it,” Cherouny, 41, said on Thursday. “But it doesn’t matter, as long as I like it.”
It actually seems quite natural that Cherouny would combine arts and athletics in her painting.
She developed a keen interest the visual arts when she was 8 years old.
“It was my mom who saw that in me,” Cherouny recalled.
She stuck with it in through high school, sketching, painting and taking photos. She juggled that passion for art with her love of skiing. Indeed, Cherouny was a skiing wunderkind in high school, seemingly ticketed for stardom until she sustained a bad ankle injury during a tour of Sweden. Though she would continue to ski competitively for the University of Vermont, Cherouny saw the painting on the wall and decided to immerse herself fully into art — first as a teacher. After earning a degree in art education, Cherouny spent the next several years teaching art at schools in Oregon and then back in Vermont. She taught at several local schools in the Addison Central, Addison Northeast and Rutland Northeast supervisory unions.
Then, two years ago, she decided to make the transition from art teacher to student. Cherouny enrolled in Johnson State College’s graduate program in fine arts. It has proven to be a transformational experience in her artistic career.
“You’re basically in an ‘art world,’” Cherouny said. “You end up opening your soul to the world.”
Cherouny began her studies using the traditional brush-in-hand on canvas. But it was around a year ago that she got an artistic epiphany that would dramatically change her style.
She was spending a rainy day at home. Looking around in her garage, Cherouny’s eyes came across a pair of rollerblades and a stack of interlinking floor mats that were among possessions she had recently cleared out of her late father’s home. Cherouny wondered what kind of designs the paint-coated rollerblades could make on a blank surface. So she donned the rollerblades, immersed them in paint she had loaded onto one of the floor mats, and began skating on some Typar construction paper.
She loved the designs she had made — a series of intertwining lines, some straight, some circular, some faded, all meandering into compositions that Cherouny believes can inspire different emotions in different people.
Painting in this fashion has also become a liberating exercise for Cherouny.
“It’s a simple way of processing the way I feel,” she said.
Her enthusiasm has been validated by her college instructors, who believe the rollerblade work is her best yet.
Cherouny at times spends four or more hours a day in her studio rollerblading across canvass, paper and other surfaces to create artwork that has measured as large as five-feet-by-eight-feet.
Some of her paintings may take only a few minutes to produce; others have been months in the making. It all depends on Cherouny’s inspiration and frame of mind when she dons the rollerblades.
“You have to exclude the world and be with your legs and your paint,” Cherouny said. “It’s almost like a meditation. The emotions can flow through you like a storm.”
Depending on how she feels, Cherouny may use dark ink, or a panoply of paint colors. Her paintings can range from a seemingly random collection of straight lines, to a complex mélange of curves. Cherouny occasionally free-hands a design, creature or object into her rollerblade art.
“Every time I start a painting I don’t know what I’m going to be confronting,” said Cherouny, who at this point has become so proficient at rollerblading that she does not fear taking a spill.
She hopes to soon firm up her painting appearances in Middlebury and Burlington. In the meantime, she’ll keep on skating up a storm, a bird’s nest and the many other designs that emerge from her unusual art activity.
“I feel like I’ve uncovered something about myself that I can share with the world,” Cherouny said.