A Visual Journey: The Work of Colman Rutkin

There are artists who work from exterior experience, the visual world around them. And there are artists who work from an interior vision. There′s no hierarchy to these ways of working. Colman Rutkin works from within, seeking to travel to far off imaginary destinations. Often such work has been referred to as ″visionary″, because the images don’t correspond directly to reality. Rutkin belongs to a lineage of artists who conjure up images from within their minds, with the goal of making the abstract concrete. His tools for accomplishing this are usually a narrow range of colors, and subtle chiaroscuro modeling to make forms hover in a sort of cosmic space. It is the space of the microscopic and intergalactic.

In an earlier era Rutkin′s work would have been called Symbolist. He is interested in the literary, and has spent much of his education studying literature and philosophy. His titles indicate sources in mythology, archetypes and religious iconography, but without the specific lexicon of meaning that many of these sources traditionally carry with them. Organic forms dominate, we can see creatures which are both animal and vegetable (and even mineral) floating in an infinite space. These creatures phosphoresce, like jelly fish, and like them, have both an astonishing beauty and a threatening presence. Rutkin also chooses to bring us close to his forms: They usually fill the picture, so that we are inside them. We rarely get to see them whole from a detached distance. Like Georgia O′Keeffe, he brings us ″into the flower.″ The floral reference is very relevant, since Rutkin is an avid horticulturist, specializing in exotic plants. Even the names of some of these plants suggest Rutkin′s forms: euphorbia, gasteria, orchidea… the reference to botanical forms is never overt and direct, but we see them, and sense their writhing, looping forms.

In Rutkin′s digital prints and drawings the forms are primary, rendered in subtle tones of black and white. They suggest the rich tonal palette of such nineteenth century masters as Georges Seurat and Odilon Redon, both of whom are spiritual ancestors. Some of these images verge on the heraldic, while others depict germination or x-rays. We journey through the primal elements: air, water, earth and fire.

Robert Bunkin
Curator of Art
Staten Island Museum

The Paintings of Colman Rutkin

It′s all about painting, not storytelling or sense of place. It′s about the immediacy of an encounter with paint and the creative act. The components of painting are color, line and texture. Rutkin delights in the abstract vocabulary offered by the physicality of the paint on paper or canvas. There is no illusion here.

At the same time he reveals himself. He loves nature-exotic plants, shells, light and shadow. He loves the record of man′s search for meaning-the myths of the ancient world and the literature of Europe′s great writers. His work testifies to the joy of the creative act itself, his creative act.

Rutkin′s work follows in a long line of abstract painters of the New York School. His painting ancestors would be pleased: William Baziotes (gentle), Clifford Still (rugged), Robert Motherwell (aggressive). Their huge canvases are a celebration of paint and the artist′s struggle with the medium. With Rutkin we encounter the same immediacy of the creative act on a smaller, more intimate scale.

Barnett Shepherd
September 30, 2012