Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lance Rutledge

I had the chance to catch up with Lance Rutledge and spend some time in his studio. I'm really into what he's been doing and was especially excited to see some of his older works. See our interview and images below:

, 2008, oil on canvas, 30"x40"

Untitled, 2001, mixed media on canvas, 20"x24"
Untitled, 1996, mixed media on canvas 18"x24"
Tomorrow, 1995, oil on canvas, 18" x 24"

Jon Lutz: Have you always made work that attempted to directly engage an audience through language?

Lance Rutledge: I didn't always make language based work, but from the beginning I've used language in my work on and off. When in high school I made a series of crudely made little "joke books" which I would pass around to anyone who would read them. I made the jokes up and the most funny thing about them was how "unfunny" they were. The punchlines made no sense or just fell flat. Kids would look at me dumbfounded, or just start laughing because they were so ridiculous, or out of nervousness. Sometimes I couldn't stop laughing, and a lot of kids didn't get it.

JL: In any case, how did this emerge over time?

LR: The first work I showed after leaving college was a group of hand made books I'd crafted in San Francisco with found photos narrated with stories, or fake autobiographies, or overheard conversations. One of my favorites was illustrated with 50's porno photos my landlord had found stuffed behind a fireplace mantel when gutting the upstairs apartment. I accompanied the photos with a conversation I'd overheard about a plane crash in the Canary Islands. I showed this group of books in Washington DC around1979. It always amused me to watch people read the book and try and concentrate on the text.

Untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 40" x 50"

LR: In the 90's after doing a lot of paintings, I felt a little adrift and uncertain of how to move forward, so I began sending anonymous letters and little painted signs to my ex dealer Colin deLand & his gallerist/girlfriend, Pat Hearn, as well as to a few other people in the Art World. They were all humor based & absurdist. This allowed me to break free & experiment without fear or judgement. It was liberating. I was very entertained and excited by working this way. Eventually my painting and this work merged. After five years I became that artist. Not that I wasn't all along.

JL: One for the most interesting things about your work is the way you deal, however subtly, with perception and contradiction. These phrases could be seen as either stream of consciousness ramblings or carefully constructed pseudo-poems. To what extent are the statements borrowed or self-invented?

LR: Nearly all of the statements are self invented or a little twist on something I've overheard or seen that catches my attention. And I sometimes write down lists of words, statements, or phrases that pop into my mind. If I find that something continues to intrigue me I might end up using it in a painting.

JL: Do you find desiring to replicate signs that engage you?

LR: I do see signs that engage me. I'm always sensitive to these things. I haven't replicated many, unless they're too good to pass up and I can make them my own in some way. I wouldn't like to use something that could be easily traced to a source already known. That would be too easy. It wouldn't interest me.

Untitled, 2002, oil on canvas, 18" x 24"

JL: Some of the works function more as “signs” than others. In some cases, a kind of horizon line separates a phrase from a group of silhouettes. In others, there is no language at all. How important is it for you to work in these different modes?

LR: I think it's important to feel the freedom to work in any mode that works for me. Sometimes it's very satisfying to make a painting that's simply all text. I like the abstractness of it visually, as in a Chinese calligraphic ink painting. That same Chinese painter would also be known for his landscapes. There was a contemporary Chinese artist in a show in the Asian galleries at the Met, who painted landscapes that were built up with Chinese calligraphy. The words/symbols functioned as marks to compose the landscape. Quite beautiful and smartly done.

Basically I don't like to be hemmed in and not feel the freedom to work in a way that suits my purposes. When I don't feel the need to use words... I don't. I don't want to force anything. I don't ever want to feel a prisoner to a style or way of working. In that case you might as well be illustrating hot dog packages.

Untitled, 2000, acrylic and photo collage on canvas, 20" x 20"

JL: How do you think this changes the “message” that using text implies?

LR: In terms of how language or no language changes the "message", I'm not at all sure. I don't know what the message is. I don't want to send a message anyway. I want to engage the viewer enough to return again to experience the painting. Hopefully there is always something left over after each viewing. Something hanging in the air. Otherwise I consider it a failure.

ALSO SEE: My previous post with Rutledge here.


  1. these are really funny. i love the thumbs up painting... kind of a slap-stick jockum nordstrom. me likey.

  2. AnonymousMay 04, 2009

    Lance: I've read this interview and just like your paintings, you don't give away any of your secret musings. I love your work. I get it every time and I can't stop chuckling to myself - sometimes really outloud and I couldn't explain what I'm laughing about to anyone. Maybe to you. The work is fabulous. Nancy

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