Brian Rutenberg “Saltwater” Forum Gallery, N.Y.C. Art Review
Enveloped in color, these pieces draw you into a unique world. The back and forth of light and shadow suck you straight to the back of these works and leave you cold and wet. Then you get shot back to the front where it is gray and dry. Your brain is kind of mush as the reality of what a landscape can be melts and shifts your gaze forcing you to see the world in an entirely new way. These works also reference a tradition of painstaking artistry that takes decades to wrangle and also includes a disciplined study of centuries of art history. The colors can’t be bought anywhere; they can only be mixed and applied craftily through repeated mistakes, patience, practice and repetition. These works show what some of the most difficult types of work there are look like; the kind that asks everything of your heart and your brain.
A repeating pattern I see in some of the works is a buildup of foreground information to the far right of the pieces. This forced me to view the piece from right to left instead of the usual left to right (one should assume Brian is right-handed). This lead to a kind of reading backwards that helped me reset my view.
“Rivulet” seems to bend from right to left in this way and has a feel of mid-evening. The south is a weird place and the Carolinas seem to have a very diverse range of nature shapes and colors. Is there any other part of the country that has this feel and diversity of plant and color life? Perhaps, but probably not, serious observation of one place and true love of that place has to go into a convincing artistic representation of it. The obsessing over how to say what is being said here does not come to life in that old 10,000 hour-rule adage.
“Mint Light” is the springiest of the works; mostly green but then purple at the bottom. Tons of yellow light peek through the trees then fade back toward right-center. If there are leaves here they are squared off as sections of colored data. The ground comes up from the left and the horizon line could be where the trees meet the ground or could be higher. Abstraction and realism collide head on in a way that satisfies and also confuses if you are looking for the usual friendly hints that occupy most landscape paintings. This is what good painting is; taking things that are old like painting and landscapes and using new techniques and fearless experimentation to present art in a new way.
“Spell” is a five foot vertical piece that pulls you back, and I mean way back from the front of the piece. The piece has just a couple of shots of yellow near the top left that shed light over the whole blueness of the piece. The heavy bottom juts out and it is sometimes difficult to determine what a tree is and what a shadow is. Like in cubism, both a shaded and a light side seem to exist in the same vertical plane. Then here they fade back as your eye goes up and away into the piece.
I am partial to the horizontal pieces and “Fringetree” has a beautiful slanting horizon line. The colors here are totally obsessed over. Some are purely saturated but then gradated and blended up and down. The bottom of this piece seems to be more in the middle and a gradation from the bottom left using purples and pinks gives the whole thing a sense of fog and displacement.
“Clover” has a milky atmospheric top and just under that to the right center are orange blades of grass (?) that dance around for about two-thirds of the piece. This has more of a definite bottom and a solid left side with black and reds that help to define the foreground. This part contrasts perfectly the way a landscape does and has a satisfying not overworked quality.
These pieces for me embody a very unique way to paint; one that looks backward to a long history of using everything possible to make a convincing piece of art. It also looks back to a history of abstraction in painting that is still figuring itself out and seeks relevancy in a world dominated by technological advances. But these pieces have everything you want in a painting and an art form: color, confidence, composition and a process that is complicated, unique and hard fought for over a long period of time. Yes, these pieces are highly decorative but also possess a dedication and perseverance needed to make good paintings that stand alone, stand the test of time and find a place in the history of painting making.
Please go to
to see the paintings. Forum also has a new eyeglass viewer to look at detailed parts of the pieces.