Vietor seems to have always known he wanted to do art. In fact, in the highly uncommon, often mutable path of his life, the one common denominator has overwhelmingly been his artistic creations.
The great-grandson of the original patent holder for Jell-O, Vietor grew up splitting his time between San Francisco and La Jolla, with a stint in boarding school in Colorado and some time in Santa Barbara. Starting in 1980, after taking some art classes at Santa Barbara City College, Vietor started creating paintings of Navajo rugs in acrylic, and he never looked back.
Four years and more art classes later — these at San Diego City College, Vietor now having settled down in San Diego — his focus shifted to paintings of freeways and abstract still-lifes of decorative desserts.
“I learned a lot about perspective and how to use colors during that time,” Vietor said.
For the next few decades, his style continued to, and still does, morph and evolve. Vietor began experimenting with different media, even incorporating objects like leaves, twigs and branches into relief paintings. A series of enamel paintings led to a phase during which he painted masonite panels, after which he began melting crayon wax with an iron.
All during that time — which brings his art career up to about the 1990s — Vietor was also making a habit of going down to La Jolla Shores beach with a boom box and a canvas. He would listen to music — mostly Brazilian jazz and movie soundtracks — and create wildly colorful abstract representations of the coastline.
“People would be coming up to me, talking to me about my art,” he said. “I did that for 10 years down there, and I amassed a huge collection of these beach scenes.”
Music has played a heavy role in Vietor’s work, acting as a muse and helping him to “get my imagination going.” Indeed, many of his paintings almost seem to dance off the canvas, the vibrant colors swirling around each other as if they exist in a perpetual Brazilian jazz track.
Most recently, Vietor created a series of paintings of coffee cups for a display at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. The large-scale oil-on-masonite panels feature rows of cups in both colorful and serene palettes, and taken all together, somehow have a calming effect on the viewer (or at least on this viewer). The paintings will be on display at the coffee shop until Nov. 29.
Vietor’s years spent studying art — which, in addition to the City College classes, included several years at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco studying silk screening, art history, watercolor and freehand drawing — have primed him to share that education with others. Through his wife, Deborah, Vietor made a connection with the nonprofit Include Autism, and through that group’s Community Coaching Center, the couple has invited groups of autistic children into their home to learn how to create art. Vietor shows them how to mix and work with colors, how to put their ideas down on paper and even the more practical side of creating art, like how to properly wash out their brushes.
“It’s really enjoyable,” he said. “I like the feeling of teaching and helping other people develop their artistic ideas. I like sharing my own ideas with them.”
Vietor’s artistic pursuits seem to pop up in other seemingly non-artistic activities, as well. A professional backgammon player since 1980 — that’s right, one can play backgammon professionally — he has traveled all over the world for tournaments. Aside from a mere love of the game, however, Vietor’s participation has a creative slant.
“It’s another avenue of expressing art,” he said. “I’ve done paintings that express my desire to play, and paintings of different people playing.”
Not only has the game inspired paintings, it has also prompted him to create sets of colorful backgammon checkers. To date, he has created checkers in 40 different colors, with plans in the works to make more, possibly for commercial sale.
Vietor has built his life around art, and with good reason: it seems he simply can’t stop doing it. Even his personality reflects that of an artistic temperament. Ask him what inspires him, and he might tell you he likes freeways because to him, they represent traveling through the different phases of life. Ask him about his relationship with his wife, and he might tell you how long they’ve been together — in months (105). Ask him how he relaxes, and you might hear the story of how he created a 10,000-foot-long tape measure, because stamping the numbers on paper over and over help him meditate.
Given Vietor’s history of myriad media and subject matter, one never knows what will come next from the prolific artist. It can perhaps be safely assumed, however, that whatever it is will be imaginatively unpredictable.
Vietor’s coffee cup paintings are currently on display at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, located at 5627 La Jolla Blvd. For more information on Vietor’s work or to order prints or originals, visit www.jonvietor.com.