By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Just imagine: an artist stuck in a dark office staring at a windowless wall. No light. It happened to Ron Pomeroy.
He’d been a lawyer for years, working in private practice and as a deputy prosecutor. Now, he was ready to retire. He gave his boss a generous notice. His boss told him, “A couple of months before you leave, we’re going to move you into a different office because we’re going to reconstruct the space.” Ron explains, “I’d had an office that was a large space with a lot of windows. I got moved to an interior office with no windows. And I thought this is really kind of confining. I think I’ll bring some of my art to work.”
That decision convinced Ron retirement was right for two reasons. The first, he says, was soul saving. He describes he “wanted to do something that used a different part of my brain.” He was tired of “being geared up and kind of intense about life.”
Also born in that dingy law office was a new career. When he hung his paintings, he heard from coworkers who were interested in the subject matter. “This was primarily birds. People said, ‘That’s really cool! Can you do my bird?’ So that’s kind of how I got started.”
When Ron boxed up his law career in 2011, he also changed his style of art from representational to abstract. Shapes and colors replaced those birds. But the paint he uses had changed long before that.
In the fall of 1986, Ron was painting a version of “American Gothic” using his parents’ faces. It was a Christmas present for them. That’s when Ron ran out of water for his watercolors. “I was drinking a beer at the time, so I started painting with beer.”
“I paint with combinations of regular watercolor and gouache (opaque watercolor paint) and either beer or wine. Ninety-five percent of what I use is beer.”
“The darker the beer, the more effect it has.” The beer can make the colors more subtle or less brilliant by having more pigmentation. Ron can simply use less beer and more watercolor when he wants to soften the stronger pigmentations. He also strives to stick with local breweries.
“I try to emphasize Northwest beer. Right now I just finished one with Pfriem. It’s a stout that’s just come to market. I like Breakside Brewery. I enjoy Widmer. And I like Full Sail. I like beers I can trust for their quality and consistency.”
Yes, beer. And not just dark porters or stouts, but also light-colored pilsners and IPAs. They don’t add any color, Ron says, but he can use them “to get some carbonation effect in the painting.” Ron will add the carbonation for the same reason he paints on watercolor paper or uses a particular printing process — to make the work pop. High-resolution giclee printing highlights the vibrancy of the colors in Ron’s paintings, how those colors relate to each other and creates that visual jazz. “I have evolved into doing primarily shapes and colors,” Ron says.
Ron has done some 1,200 pieces using about 150 beers. He says he can do one painting per 16-ounce beer. “Art is a highly personal experience and the beauty of abstract art is that you can kind of see what you want to in it. But what I like is that just doing it with beer is doing something outside the norm. It puts me in an ‘outside the norm’ frame of mind.”
There is a liveliness to Ron’s work; whether it is a palette of colors rolling across the paper like a stormy sea, tiers of color stacked one on the other like a multilayered hamburger or spears of color growing like hallucinogenic blades of grass.
But there is something missing. Ron has won awards at art shows and is developing a marketing plan that will include putting his images on things like t-shirts and coffee mugs. Oddly, though, you won’t find a Pomeroy original on your next bottle of beer. A while back, Ron did ask a few breweries if they were interested, but that was when he was still doing birds and he was turned down.
Of course, breweries have signature labels that quickly identify who they are: Pelican’s pelican, Breakside’s chair or Hopworks’ tricolored circle. But perhaps more brewers could employ a method popular with winemakers — using unique labels for special releases. Chateau Mouton Rothschild has been doing this for years and the labels, let alone the wine, are collectible. At a time when more beer lovers are collecting and storing beer, artistic labels could add to their experience. Besides, when you pay $15 or $20 for a 22-ounce bottle of beer, wouldn’t it be nice to also have something intriguing to look at on the label?
For a look at Ron Pomeroy’s “Beer Colors,” go to beercolors.net. There will be a reception for a display of Ron Pomeroy’s work from 7-9 p.m. Jan. 16 at Frame Central, 6639 SW Macadam, Portland. You can also participate in Oregon Beer Growler’s Perfect Pints tasting for the February issue at the same location that afternoon.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.