Two of my favorite painters both live in New York but have very different mentalities about image making. Brian Rutenberg comes as pretty and decorative as they can while still somehow being realistic, creative and abstract. Peter Maslow's work is urban and sketchy, dingy and raw yet both artists have many similarities that put them on the same team, using like-minded processes to get very different results.
If you want to know about Brian Rutenberg it’s all out there. Just go to youtube and watch some of his studio visits; he gets really deep into who he is, how he feels and why he does what he does. Explained succinctly and directly he is educated with a capital E, and ready to paint. He has been making art forever and has had a very successful career. Much of what you would want to know about him as an artist is on the internet, like a Tom Brokaw of his own inner-world of image making, reporting a lot (too much?) from begin to end. I watch these every day and I always learn something new about art and the south and New York and how to be a good person (another damn smiley face emoticon from me, when will these go away by the way?).
Peter Maslow? Not so much with the youtube. There is a video someone made a long time ago about him but the vids are broken up into tiny chunks for some reason and we only get a glimpse into his world but it’s enough for me. All I want to know is where he is from, how hard he works, and the rest is in the paintings. I got to say Peter is my favorite painter ever. His work comes from a love of drawing, de Kooning, and the colors are bruised and urban and quite scary but contrasts extremely well with all the other art ever made. I would never want to paint the way he does but his process comes from a very personal place; the 1980s, subways, architecture, Polish landscapes, graffiti, and a New York most of us can’t deal with. The colorful gallery friendly slick thick oil paintings of Brian’s aim to please in the best of ways but I prefer a blue-collar goombah’s paintings any day.
Both artists received Fulbrights (Brian in 1997 and Peter in 1999) both went to odd Euro lands with the prizes (Ireland and Poland, respectively) and both came back from those experiences changed forever. Brian came back and went deeper into an atmospheric, hazy environ while Peter came back and saw dark greens and flak towers, yes, flak towers, where soldiers fought and killed from the tops of during WWII. In my mind, it gets no darker in painting than a flak tower but the city can also hold the same fear for me; anything can happen in a small, crowded city/apartment and often does. There are a million stories and all that. Peter’s color scheme leaves me quite sad, but he is working from a place he knows all too well and the hard work he knows first-hand on a daily basis (he is a contractor by trade) shows up in his giant pieces. His works are constructed, patiently, with experience, like buildings, with a direct architecture that is loose but still solid as rock. There is only one way out in Peter’s worlds and that is to fight up and over on a daily basis. If this is the type of person you are, and you practice over a long period of time putting that kind of effort in your paintings, it will no doubt show up there and be good. It’s hard to explain exactly how and why this is but a trained art eye will spot it in a second; Peter is a master artist who fought hard and long over many years to get to the bottom of the work he is making and it’s all paid off.
So my heart is with Peter, but my brain says Brian is on equal footing though in a decidedly different way. A career as a professional artist also requires a path few can handle; the art world is super tough with fragile egos and monster trend swings that will dismay and confuse any human. Brian has navigated this for decades and that strength comes from a specific place that is beautiful, wrought with an eccentric and scarred history, but always satisfies in the end. Brian’s art seems to come from everything natural like weather and water and a love of everything art history has to offer. Much painting today is made this way; a mish mash of styles and techniques and only the best of the best can make it all work together in a painting. Believe me when I say that Brian’s way of painting is very difficult and requires everything of an artist. Brian also represents a southern way of thinking; extremely odd but honest and humorous and loyal, maybe to a fault. Peter on the other hand represents a worker of the highest order; someone who could build or fix anything, and build it perfectly, efficiently and somewhat happily and with supreme confidence. South and north ya’ll, there is still a difference.
Both artists make total use of fictive space in an original and unique way developing super imaginative worlds that you can get very lost in. This results in highly personal and unique paintings. One is coming from nature and the other from the city (and some nature). Both guys are large dudes and both are trustworthy, honest, for the good and hard working. Both in my opinion have forged their own paths in a world and history of men and women dead set on being exactly who they are and not much more (see Americans, Abstract Expressionism, etc.) and magically wrangling that vision into a singular way of image making. Maybe they have not changed the world of painting but they have pushed it forward, even if just a small bit and that is enough.