Tales from the topographic oceans
The art of Rebecca Rutstein at Sylvia White Gallery
By David Cotner 09/22/2011
In reaching for the stars, are we limited by the turmoil of our own spirits? Philadelphia artist Rebecca Rutstein, who premieres her solo exhibition “Zero Gravity” at Sylvia White Gallery, examines the issue with an explosion of color and shape inspired by space satellite technology and all the images it feeds us in our search for a way out.
“For the last 10 years,” Rutstein admits, “I’ve been interested in using geologic forces — particularly plate tectonics — as a metaphor in my work for the upheaval, collision, eruptions, separation, etc., that exist in interpersonal relationships. About five years ago, when my first son was born, and with a lessened ability to travel for site-specific projects, I turned inward to envision remote, uninhabited and enigmatic spaces. I researched an oceanographer, Marie Tharp, who drew maps of the ocean floor based on sonar readings from ships in the ’50s and ’60s. I then developed layered spaces and envisioned my own deep ocean landscapes. The paintings had elements of representation and abstraction and were full of unexpected juxtapositions.”
Rutstein’s works are acrylic paintings on canvas, wood and paper, some ranging up to 48 inches by 60 inches in size, and one, “I Promise You the World, Part II,” is a long, luxuriant, desolate deep green sea stretching 30 inches by 80 inches in which sunken nets become graceful lattices that border mountain ranges on the ocean floor. What was the inspiration for the “Zero Gravity” series?
“I’ve turned to the subject of deep space as a starting point. I felt I had exhausted my exploration of the ocean floor and gravitated to deep space for a number of reasons: First, the absence of gravity connected it to my ocean series; second, my almost-5-year-old’s obsession with deep space rubbed off on me; and third, the Mars Exploration Rover technology and its ability to connect us to landscapes and worlds we cannot reach on foot is fascinating to me, the same way deep sea submersibles opened up the very deepest parts of the ocean humans cannot yet visit.”
Rutstein’s work stands as a tribute to the way man perceives the world: as something to be measured and quantified, even as he speaks out the other side of his mouth about beauty and the wonders of the natural world.
The presence of the line versus the curve summons up a clash of themes that are jarring at one extreme and contemplative at the other. About that clash, Rutstein explains, “I’m interested in creating a space of juxtapositions — graphic forms living in atmospheric and painterly backdrops. Solid forms sharing space in a linear world. The micro- macro- scale shift is something that engages me where I build modular structures that I hope read as space station or satellite modules in one painting, and as genome structures in a different painting. Color is very intuitive for me and I see it as a defining point in the work to define the mood and energy.” Rutstein’s signature piece in the exhibition, “Another State of Mind,” is an acrylic on canvas work pitting a white cloud against a series of nets made of gently curving triangles amid a backdrop of bile-yellow sky. Calming green and blue hues offset more powerful colors of red and yellow, senses at war with each other even as the placid little cloud floats overhead, coming from an unknown place and heading to other parts unknown. But is it a cloud and are they really nets? You see what you want to see, be it through the lens of a space satellite or art itself.
“Zero Gravity” by Rebecca Rutstein runs through Oct. 15 at Sylvia White Gallery, 1783 E. Main St., 643-8300, www.sylviawhite.com.