For more than 45 years, the artist’s response to the natural world has melded together the seen and the imagined in masterful combinations of color and generously applied oil paint. His style is both conspicuous and recognizable: high-keyed, fauvist-inflected color applied to the canvas with a rich physicality and vigorous texture. Another calling card for Rutenberg is his penchant for unexpected juxtapositions of intrepid color, layering patches of intense sapphire blue beneath strokes of pink taffy, or regions of cantaloupish orange that emerge from environments of earthy brown. These vibrant and energetically choreographed combinations of color assert themselves with an idiosyncratic muscularity that bursts forward from the surfaces of his canvases.
For Rutenberg, the landscape remains a powerful impulse more than a particular subject matter. Over the course of his career, Rutenberg has moved further and further away from the literal landscape in order to explore what he calls “sustained meditations on the sheer transformative power of looking.” In creating his art, Rutenberg extracts the structures and colors of landscape and reassembles them into his own new painterly universe, with its own natural laws about color and texture. Even though his paintings are populated with recognizable forms—trees, horizon, bodies of water—his work is anchored in a reverence for the aesthetic properties of imagination and of paint itself. Rutenberg’s paintings reflect a desire to immerse his viewers not in the universe of the landscape, but in the universe of painting—which, to Rutenberg, has always manifested an artist’s own state of wonder.
Rutenberg has long been inspired by eighteenth century Rococo painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, whose late work held the revelation that an artist must bend the laws of nature in order to fit the laws of art. The twelve canvases and six works on paper included in this exhibition attest to Brian Rutenberg’s inimitable, refreshing take on landscape painting for which he has gained a national reputation. As Rutenberg writes in his artist statement for this exhibition, “There is no room for the landscape in a landscape painting…. Only the viewer can turn it back into nature.”