Young artist brings the inside out while challenging norms

John Garoutte holds a piece of his own art decorating a snowboard at his job at Darkside Snowboards in Ludlow. Photo by Jasmin Gomez

By Jasmin Gomez
2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

When Chester resident John Garoutte isn’t snowboarding or skateboarding, you will most likely find him creating art.

And the 24-year-old artist’s work, which can be found on shirts, snowboards and skateboard decks, sets him apart from what you may think a typical Vermont artist would create. It continuously questions the status quo and breaks barriers.

He modernizes the printmaking style using digital tools and pairs it with a 1950s aesthetic, while encouraging viewers to question societal norms and functions. A glimpse may make you question the world that surrounds you but also gain an appreciation for the style he’s bringing to the table.

A creative upbringing

Garoutte’s interest in art began as a child growing up in Charlestown, N.H., right across the Connecticut River from Vermont. 

“Art has always been a big part of my life. I had a super-creative dad who was really into painting and drawing. There were paintings all over the house and art books, and he was really into traditional Japanese ink drawings, ” he says.

But it was at Fall Mountain Regional High School in Langdon, N.H., where he became more serious about his art. 

“I liked to draw and stuff like that but, I didn’t really know what I could do with it…. But by then, I just kind of figured out that I liked it enough to pursue it, ” he says.

By then, Garoutte was developing a growing interest in punk rock bands like Black Flag and was influenced by the group’s album artist Raymond Pettibon.

Pettibon “had a really distinct style that’s just stark black and white brush and ink drawings, almost like a single comic panel but slightly more crude … I saw that sort of simplistic art style could communicate so much with doing so little,” says Garoutte.

The artist also said that Entertainment Comics Co. had a huge influence on his work. “I used to have a big stack of ‘Tales of the Crypt’ and suspense stories. And those are the scarier, pulpy comic books. And they have guys like Bernie Wrightson and Al Feldstein illustrate those, and those were huge influences on my artwork.”

Garoutte likes the black pen and ink and stark lines used by these artists, emulating it in his own work. He considers Pettibon, Wrightson, Feldstein and Jack Kirby his artistic heroes.

Garoutte’s work such as the piece above is reminiscent of the black pen and ink drawings and the stark lines of much-admired earlier comic book artists.

Fall Mountain art teacher Dakota Benedetto said Garoutte took art classes throughout high school. “He was constantly making art … He went to every class with a sketchbook,” Benedetto says.

She recalls that “a lot of the other students really admired both his finished product and his work ethic in terms of how much time he spent drawing … I’m not sure how much he actually learned in my classes as much as he learned on his own.”

Benedetto also noticed that Garoutte was able to connect his perception of the world around him with his artwork. “He could see things going on in the world around him and capture them in a visual image. And sometimes that included some sly commentary about the state of the world or small social situations, ” she says.

Benedetto also said at times Garoutte stood apart from other students. “He always asked the questions you wouldn’t have necessarily expected from a student.”

Showing his talent to the community

Ian Kirk, the owner of Kirk’s Camp, a traveling snowboarding and skateboarding camp, recalls meeting the young Garoutte through snowboarding. But it wasn’t until 2015, when Kirk took over Flip Side Skatepark in Rutland, that he got to know Garoutte and his talent with both skating and art.

A playful but spooky theme mixes with Garoutte’s love of the mountains.

During Kirk’s time at Flip Side, he invited Garoutte as a guest for one of its summer camps. He had Garoutte host a contest where he created a drawing on the grip tape of a skateboard, and the winner was given the board.

“At the end of the day, you know, John would sit down in the lobby and do just impromptu art pieces on their skateboards, ” Kirk says.

He adds that he also encouraged his art by giving Garoutte the opportunity to paint mini murals throughout the skatepark.

“I really believe in the connection of art and skateboarding … He was a local, he was a great artist, and that’s who I wanted to use. Someone who would be in the park and could talk to the kids about what he’d done,” Kirk says.

Like Benedetto, Kirk saw social commentary in Garoutte’s art, “poking at societal norms.” “He’s not just creating art; he’s sending messages,” he says.

Snow- and skateboarding influence work

Lookingat Garoutte’s Instagram page, you are instantly struck by the sheer number of art pieces and videos of him snowboarding and skateboarding. It’s that love that may be one reason why he moved to Chester. “There’s no place like this in the country and believe me, I’ve looked. (Chester) is full of farms and Victorian houses. You can walk down the street and the history of the buildings and homes just resonates with you. It feels like a Grandma Moses painting. And we’re getting the wheels turning with some new stuff for the skatepark (at the Pinnacle), which is a plus!”

On his feed, it is noticeable that some of Garoutte’s work became focused on themes of the Black Lives Matter protest and police brutality. But the work on Garoutte’s page also playfully pokes at societal norms.

Garoutte’s ‘Strange Fruit’ is just one work focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as recalling the late Billie Holiday’s protest song against lynching.

You can also find Garoutte’s work at Darkside Snowboards, where he has designed shirts for the company.

During the shutdown due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Garoutte created an online shop called Finger Board Co., where he sells clothing, prints, stickers and accessories.

Garoutte makes it clear that he believes artists have responsibilities other than just making art. “I find that it’s the job of an artist to make that stuff more accessible to everybody to understand,” he said. “Take a complex idea and make it into a piece of art.”

These works, he said, can be challenging to depict. And, in a time where we are all home isolating, his work can push the viewer into self-reflection. The themes and topics he addresses are pertinent in a society that has become subsumed in a world controlled by social media.

Garoutte also says he takes the time to look at the world as a whole rather than in small bites. He attributes that to “waking up early and taking an hour to sit and stare out the window and just think about the world at large and why we have the things we do and what it takes it create those things and where they come from…sort of like what it took to create them.”

Jasmin Gomez is senior at Castleton University majoring in Studio Art and Media and Communications, while minoring in Graphic Design. She lives in Mt. Holly.

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  1. O. Schemm says:

    Great article about an engaged younger VT artist!