This past weekend, I had the great privilege of seeing the work of Brian Rutenberg at the Cotuit Center for the Arts. Brian is one of my top five favorite artists, and I’ve spent many an hour in awe of the paintings in his book (now out of print, unfortunately) and online. He also has a wonderful series of videos in which he generously shares his philosophy about life and art, technical tips, and glimpes into his studio practice. I often watch the videos before I start my painting day–they never fail to inspire, and twice now, they’ve helped me reach breakthroughs in my own work. I thanked him for that.
For me, Brian has become a mentor of sorts, even though I knew him only through the internet and his book.
So, imagine my thrill when I walked into the CCA and saw his paintings for the first time in real life. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I was awestruck. I actually gasped, that’s how strong an emotional experience it was. His paintings are huge–sometimes seven or eight feet long–and so full of vibrating color balanced by areas of calm serenity that one feels pulled in among a swirl of tantalizing energy that yes, leaves a person breathless but ever so glad to feel that way. The texture is a sight to behold as well–some areas are two or three inches thick, and then others are thinly glazed. There’s a wonderful push and pull, a torrent and an easing, that occur in all his paintings, and as an artist, I appreciate the skill with which Rutenberg accomplishes what he does. It’s not easy by any means.
In addition to absorbing the paintings, I got to listen to and meet Brian. Talk about a thrill! I felt like a little starstruck kid. I don’t often ask to have my picture taken with someone, but I couldn’t resist on this occasion. Brian is a big presence–physically and energetically–but he’s also warm and friendly, and very approachable. He doesn’t have much patience with the hoighty-toighty attitude of some art circles. For him, art is something to be experienced and shared and delighted in, and I love his enthusiasm and sense of wonder about it. We had a nice conversation about his technique, and we joked a bit, and I tried to learn as much as I could from him in the all-too-brief few hours I was there. I’ll always treasure the memory, and I thank this wonderful artist for his generosity of spirit. What a difference his art makes to my life, and, I’m sure, the lives of many others.
If you’re near the inner Cape, make sure to visit this exhibit. You’ll be glad you did. It runs through October 18.