Paul X. Rutz

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In an interview about his process, composer Philip Glass said, “I have one secret. It’s a very easy secret. You get up early in the morning and you work all day.” Glass’s matter-of-fact description of his approach to writing an opera lays bare a fact: for some people the activities found on a blog discussing “inspiration” or in a newspaper under “Entertainment” are full-time, body-consuming work.

If we talk about art and work as opposites, we place artistic practice either next to frivolous entertainment or in a roped-off club for the inspired where only geniuses with muses may enter. I prefer to talk like Mr. Glass.

In my early-morning painting practice, I look for ways I can set pictorial rules for myself to reflect some of the physiological work and constant movement involved in seeing. Our hearts beat, lungs expand, and our eyes make continuous saccades, seeing not in single points of view, but in paths of attention that add memory and prediction to our sense of an unfolding now. How can painting represent some of that?

With these pictures I’m depicting some of the tools that allow people to present musical, dance, and culinary experiences to each other—those slippery, nonutilitarian moments of beauty and nourishment we can’t quite justify as “work” when we consume them—and I’m doing it with a kind of accuracy unavailable in photography or any other medium we refer to as archival or documentary.

I employ a two-part rule in the studio lately: measure and move. With each spot of canvas I paint, I move my head to a new location. Working with a live model I measure every prop and body part—every vein, finger bone, and nail—rendering them on canvas exactly the same size as in life. These measurements of the real world stack together in unfamiliar ways, and through the process of connecting them I find myself newly aware of the artifice necessary to make these pictures look something like the breathing, moving people whose presence provokes them. This is one small way of seeing outside of Renaissance perspective (approximated here, of course, in photos of the paintings).

We can bet the Paleolithic painters of cave walls knew nothing of our distinction between work and art. Studying their pictures, imagining how a single moving torch created moving shadows as hands worked the walls, I’ve become invested in the pre-photographic rules by which those ancient people documented the things that occupied their minds. As hunters they apparently saw mammoths and horses in the shadowed bumps of a cave wall. As a former ballet dancer with violinist friends and love for a good meal, I’ve pressed onto my working surface the stuff that fills my life, lit with a single moving lamp.




return to art

Paul X. Rutz took a military/balletic route toward this line of work. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 2001, earned a master’s degree eight months later, then served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kennedy. While in the Naval Reserve he danced ballet with a few small companies, using painting to examine the events and people he encountered. After working as a reporter/photographer for the Pentagon’s press service, he went back to school to study imagery in American culture, completing a Ph.D. dissertation on art and the Iraq war in spring 2011. Now he works in Portland, Oregon.