Realistically rendered human figures are depicted balancing on highwires, planks, and drifting logs, flying and spinning through the air like acrobats, and leaping across chasms in Gary Ruddell’s highly narrative paintings. The spaces his subjects inhabit, however, are amorphous, non-objective, and often work upon his subjects’ bodies to dematerialize their features, breaking down their solidity as if to highlight human impermanence and to challenge the singularity of human experience. The unique relationship that Ruddell orchestrates between representation and abstraction figures prominently in Study for Fire and Ice (2012). While the interlocking hands and forearms of what look like two trapeze artists in flight are depicted with naturalistic precision, their bodies grow increasingly illegible before ultimately coalescing into the surrounding environment as abstracted currents of color and form. Such formal tensions call to mind the painter Gerhard Richter, who smears, wipes, scrapes, and squeegees his paintings’ photorealistic elements to undermine and challenge expectations and easy categorization.
Somewhat ironically, the tensions Ruddell orchestrates between seemingly disparate elements—and the viewer’s desire for resolution—fosters a sense of formal and psychological balance. As Man on Wire (2012) directly demonstrates, a certain degree of tension is necessary for tightrope walkers to properly balance on their wires. Both formally and conceptually, balance and harmony are central themes for Ruddell, who describes his paintings as “visual statements about coming together” in an era dominated by international ethnic and religious warfare and the undeterred rise of the military-industrial complex. This “coming together” is underscored by a recurring motif in which two figures are seen leaping toward each other in an act predicated on faith and trust. Though we expect the figures to lock arms, Ruddell depicts them at that vulnerable moment right before they “catch” each other. Aided by a moody palette of deep blues, grays, browns, and rusts and a predilection for dramatic tonal contrast, these frozen, powerful moments cause the viewer to stop, quietly consider, and reflect.
Gary Ruddell was born in San Mateo, CA, in 1951 and graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts with a BFA in 1975. In addition to exhibiting across the United States, Ruddell’s work can also be found in prominent private and public collections.