'WORLD FAMOUS ON ARTERNET ART' - FEATURED GUEST ARTIST - Brian Rutenberg
|'My Blanket of Shadows' 48" x 58"|
There is an old-world courtesy that surrounds New York artist Brian Rutenberg, that I find very appealing and it is an absolute privilege to have him here with us today on 'World Famous on ArterNet Art'.
Widely considered to be one of the finest American painters of his generation, Brian Rutenberg has spent forty years honing a distinctive method of compressing the rich color and form of his native coastal South Carolina, into complex landscape paintings that imbue material reality with a deep sense of place.
ArterNet Art: Hi Brian, it's a pleasure to have you here with us today. Thanks so much for your time, as I know you have a heavy schedule.
As artists, for some reason, we love these rare insights into other artists lives. Reading their stories helps us with our own daily challenges - to know others have had their trials and succeeded, is very uplifting.
The culture of our company here at ArterNet Art - ANA, is to put a human face to all our members and guest artists. Our approach is to give our artist members the opportunity to meet recognised artists - to learn more about how they became the well-known artist we see today.
So without further ado: Brian, Can you give our readers an idea of your route to becoming an artist?
Brian: My greatest fortune in life is that I was born and raised along the coast of South Carolina. Where I grew up, people didn’t ask how you were doing, but where you were from—not the town or street, but what patch of shade under what tree.
Southern children are taught to drink in the wondrous details of the local landscape: a flower isn’t just a flower, but blue water hyssop or southern marsh canna, birds are black-bellied whistling ducks or red-footed boobies, and barbecue sauce is light tomato, heavy tomato, mustard, or vinegar. Poetry lives in details, and the artist’s job is to amplify them.
My connection to the landscape of South Carolina has nothing to do with nostalgia; it’s much broader than memory. It’s my clear seeing place. A career has many moving parts, but there must be a cable that runs from your soft tissue directly to your clear seeing place.
Every artist needs such a place, for this is where your muse resides.
Mine is an old man named Homiah. He has gray sideburns and wears a shabby root-beer-brown trench coat and a Gatsby cap. Homiah has been my muse for as long as I can remember. I work all day, every day, so that Homiah will know when and where to find me; I lock my door, start messing around, and pretty soon he appears, all soft mouthed and weightless. His only prerequisite is solitude.
I became an artist when I learned how to be my own best friend.
ArterNet Art: Thank you for such a beautiful intro into your journey. Have you encountered any difficulties or major hurdles you've had to overcome, if any, on your journey to becoming the successful, established artist we see today?
Brian: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the early eighties offered little exposure to the fine arts, so after school, my mother dropped me off at Chapin Memorial Public Library, where I systematically consumed the entire art history section, one book at a time; I still remember it was the 700s in the Dewey decimal system. It was here that I read The Letters of Vincent van Gogh. One sentence from that book still haunts me:
“The sadness will last forever.” That was the one I’d been waiting for. It was a permission slip into the contours and dimensions of something darker that I couldn’t yet articulate.
I don’t measure my life in ups and downs. I have certainly experienced tragic and painful events in my life but I neither learned from them, nor did I try to come out of them, I just paid attention to the feelings.
What I learned was that all art comes from sadness. Meaning comes from paying attention to suffering, not because the artist is depressed or miserable, but because sadness is a richer, more complex state than happiness; a modicum of sorrow is a legitimate part of any good life because it allows us to experience our entire being.
There’s a reason it takes more muscles to frown than to smile—we want to say “buzz off” to pain and suffering through effort and perseverance. Creativity requires attention to detail and persistence in the face of failure; that’s why it’s called discipline. An artist is someone who reveres suffering. That’s how we learn to see the grace in simple things.
ArterNet Art: That's good advice. So tell us a little about what or who were your early influences?
Brian: Harry Houdini, Glenn Gould, Tiny Tim, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Walt Disney.
Brian: Every spring during childhood, my mother placed a crystal bowl of water on my bedside table in which floated three pink camellia blossoms cut from a bush in our front yard. At night, I’d lie on my pillow, watching them slowly spin and bump into each other until my eyelids betrayed me.
They would still be spinning when I awoke. Looking is gathering information, but seeing is contemplation. My mother was teaching me how to see. She created the conditions for an experience that had no intrinsic meaning whatsoever, yet it filled me with a rage to live.
ArterNet Art: I notice you work in oils. What was it about this medium you've chosen, that attracted you?
Brian: Oil paint is, and has always been, about possession. Painting presides over a kind of cultural inversion in which an aesthetic encounter replaces a verbal one.
Painting draws energy from its superficiality. I don’t want to stand in front of an idea, but a thoughtfully constructed thing that exists separate from myself which provokes inwardness and brings me aesthetic pleasure.
That’s how I locate myself in the world at that moment.
ArterNet Art: How did you end up using the techniques and can you explain to us a bit about how you use them.
Brian: Painting enacts place. Robert Rauschenberg said it best: “You begin with the possibilities of the material.” A painting should grow like a living, breathing thing. The ideas come out of the process. Starting with an idea and building a picture around it automatically inserts a gap between the artist and viewer because the artist knows something that the viewer doesn’t. Even if the viewer figures it out, the gap remains.
I want my paintings to begin and end with physical certainties like materials and process; anyone can relate to a buttery brushstroke, because it doesn’t need to be anything else. The smaller the gap, the better the painting. I emphasize the physicality of my materials in order to connect the painting to the tactile world that we all occupy.
When I throw a fistful of vermilion at the canvas, it splats; if I add thinner, it runs, and one color appears to pass over another because it does. Think of colors as a pack of playing cards dumped out on a table, a pile of overlapping layers, some visible and others partially concealed.
I spend all day stacking color.
|Gardenia (SOLD), 2017, oil on linen, 60 x 82 inches|
Brian: My oil paintings are sometimes up to three inches thick, a technique is called impasto. I loathe impasto. I don’t use thick paint out of passion or bravado, but to establish spatial orientation: thick is near and thin is far away.
Content is a function of how near or far away something appears from your face. There is no such thing as texture in painting; lumps and ridges are merely evidence of a working brush, but I no longer believe that a painting can be about paint.
Philip Guston was right: “painting is impure.” He goes on, “We are image-makers and image-ridden.” Nothing can do what oil paint does, namely fuse thinking and feeling into a third thing. What is art if not imagination and craft combined into something that transcends both? Look at any painting by George Ault, Alma Thomas, Remedios Varo, Myron Stout, or Suzan Frecon, and you’ll witness the expert alignment of subject and object into a third thing.
|The progress of 'Southlight' |
2015, 108x120 in, oil on linen
Brian: My advice is to give up on amateur words like inspiration and originality because they are undependable. The only thing you can depend on is a work schedule.
Day after day, I show up and hack away at the gigantic, slow-moving iceberg in my studio. When a piece breaks off, I get a painting. This isn’t luck, but stubborn persistence.
ArterNet Art: That is such great advice, Brian, so how has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Brian: There is great poetry in repetition, in doing the same thing, over and over, for a long time. That’s how you get good at stuff. No one talks about that.
Duke Ellington said, “The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.” Galleries are lined with paintings that beg to be “understood.” Art students are frightened into thinking that they must be original right out of the gate or risk mediocrity. They face constant pressure to grow and evolve. Those are art school bullshit words. Just keep showing up.
ArterNet Art: I love that, Bri. Can you give us an overview about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
Brian: I painted “A Gaze For Kathryn” in 1999, the year that I married my wife Kathryn. The secret to my success as an artist was marrying the right person. The love and stability of a good marriage to a self-reliant spouse can knock the legs out from under any problem the world can fling at your windshield.
It was the most important decision of my life and I nailed it.
ArterNet Art: Good stuff. Is there anything in particular that inspires you to create art?
Brian: The ecstasy of feeling the most like myself.
|'Point of Pond' Oil on Linen 60 x 83in|
Brian: I was nineteen years old when I sold my first painting. A prominent collector from Columbia, South Carolina, saw my piece in the Guild of South Carolina Artists Annual Exhibition at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston.
He handed me a two-hundred-dollar check, of which I still have a copy. Waving the check in one hand, I ran down King Street to Colonial Bakery as fast as my legs would go and bought a lemon pie, my favorite.
I held the pie close to my face and inhaled; it was fresh and tart. Then I went to my studio, stripped naked, and ate the entire pie with my hands because that’s the way I celebrate.
ArterNet Art: That's a mighty powerful image, Brian😊 Marketing your artwork: do you have any tips? Do you struggle with marketing and what areas could you use some guidance in?
Brian: Send handwritten Thank You notes.
ArterNet Art: How has your arts business/career changed over the past 6 months or year?
Brian: There was a slowdown in sales when the pandemic first broke but that abated quickly. The past year has been one of the best of my career. I think that people find solace in living with beauty in its many iterations (music, poetry, fine art).
A painting is a tangible source of renewal and contemplation. The world needs more poetry.
ArterNet Art: Quite right. Do you have any hobbies, sports or interests other than art?
Brian: Walt Disney World.
ArterNet Art: What plans and goals do you have for the future, both creatively and personal?
Brian: I gave up on plans a long time ago.
Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
ArterNet Art: That's true. So what advice would you give to an aspiring new artist?
Brian: When starting, do what you think people will hate, because someone else is already doing what they love. If you like Black Sabbath, then you shouldn’t start a heavy metal band that wears crucifixes and patchouli. They took care of it.
I never intended to make lush, buttery landscape paintings, because John Constable and Tom Thomson already had it covered. I needed a place of my own. Turns out, it was right in front of me all along.
It was in the gumball-green lights of the Tilt-A-Whirl against a Prussian blue Carolina sky and the lavender neon of “All You Can Eat” signs three stories tall. But it was also in the cobalt green of palmetto frond and soft compositions of shade. Find a place in art where you don’t see what you want to see, and stay there.
|'Under the Pines' 10 Oil on Paper 30 x 22.5in|
Thank you for giving us an article with such depth and insights that other artists will be able to include in their daily art practice.
-Brian's Amazon Bestselling books, Clear Seeing Place and A Little Long Time are available on Amazon or by emailing Marjorie@forumgallery.com
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