John Kayrouz makes peace with himself through ‘Peacemaker’ at The Carrack

Durham artist John Kayrouz's oil painting "Kim's Room" is on view at The Carrack until Dec. 10.Courtesy John Kayrouz

This week is your last chance to see emerging artist John Kayrouz’s exhibition “Peacemaker” at The Carrack Modern Art in Durham.

Emerging artist John Kayrouz paints stories with his portraits. At his exhibition “Peacemaker” at Durham’s The Carrack Modern Art, you’ll find non-traditional portraits — a woman mid-blink, a nude couple in bed, a pair of alter egos. If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the figures have extra limbs, and ghostly forms sometimes lurk in the backgrounds.

“I’m not suggesting a strict or a simple story,” Kayrouz said. “Viewers are able to make up their own narratives. I give them just the painting so that their heads start spinning.”

This is the last weekend to see “Peacemaker,” which has its final day on Dec. 10. The Carrack — which opens new exhibitions roughly every two weeks — is free to the public. Kayrouz plans on being at the exhibit between noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, to talk to visitors.

The title of the show is a nod to his belief that every individual has many sides, and Kayrouz tries to show that hidden side coexisting with a person’s outer self in his portraits. But there’s another level to the title, too.

“It’s me making peace with myself that, ‘Yes, you should continue to do this,'” he said. “I’m not an assertive person, so calling myself an artist is me finally accepting that this is what I want to do with my life.”

Kayrouz grew up near Roanoke, Virginia, and studied theatre and communications at Virginia Tech where he learned about set design, costuming and film. He didn’t think he could make it as a painter (especially after a professor told him, “You couldn’t do that” when Kayrouz said he wanted to paint like noted fantasy/science fiction artist Frank Frazetta).

But post-college, he started taking classes — and he started getting better. “I wasn’t painting Renaissance figures right off the bat,” Kayrouz said. “It’s a skill set you build. General curiosity, education, and critical thinking can make an intentional, wonderful piece of work.”

At first, oil painting seemed daunting to him. But after a workshop at which his muted watercolor looked like a “wallflower” in comparison to the other artists’ oil paintings, Kayrouz knew he had to try it. “The oil paintings glowed,” he recalled. “They’re what I use when I really want a piece to have vitality.”

This is Kayrouz’s first solo show in Durham, which has been his home since he moved from Boone in 2014. He calls the show a “full-circle” experience; during his first year in the city, Kayrouz and a friend visited The Carrack.

“He said to me, ‘Someday I’ll see you at The Carrack!’ and I said to him, ‘Sure, buddy,'” he said.

Kayrouz is using his piece “Kim’s Room” as a header of sorts for the show. A woman in a simple dress stands in the middle of a room swirling with deep reds, oranges, and yellows. She doesn’t seem to be quite ready for her close-up.

Kayrouz works from photos of models — he often picks a friend to photograph and lets the hundreds of pictures he takes inform his portrait.

“The image I got the most ideas out of for ‘Kim’s Room’ was a quick photo between poses,” he said. “She wasn’t really trying yet. I almost think she’s half-blinking and adjusting her clothes. She’s pulling on her dress in the painting. She’s not performing for the camera, she’s just being herself.”

Like “Kim’s Room,” most of the scenes in “Peacemaker” are interior. Kayrouz wants to paint the ultimate exterior — the great outdoors — for his next series, and he’s going to let an upcoming backpacking trip in the Patagonian region of Chile inspire him. Maybe he’ll paint portraits of trees, he said.

“Peacemaker” is on view until Dec. 10. The Carrack is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and on Wednesdays by appointment. It’s located at 947 E. Main St., Durham. Click here for more info.

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