David Rufo

Artist Q&A with David Rufo

David Rufo’s paintings explore visual oscillations and pattern structures. His work is informed by the hyper-kinetic shift of the art movements from the post-war period and the viscous psychedelic imagery of the 1960s and 70s. In addition to being a visual artist, Rufo is an Assistant Professor of Education at Cazenovia College in upstate New York. Previously, Rufo was a Clinical Assistant Professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education at Lincoln Center in New York City. Rufo has published articles on creativity in a variety of peer-reviewed journals.

“Muscle Car”, oil on canvas, 68 x 64 in | 172 x 163 cm, 2022

Who is your favorite artist of all time?

There are too many in my favorite category from which to choose, so my response will speak to an artist’s work that I would like to own. If I could live with any painting and have the opportunity to examine it up close over the course of many years, it would be one of de Kooning’s late paintings. These works from the 1980s are significant to me in a variety of ways. Most importantly, they span the time that I was a student in art school and then as an unknown artist living in New York City while working as a bouncer in night clubs in order to earn just enough to purchase art supplies and pay the rent. To me, de Kooning’s late work distills and refines the essence and visual profundity of his earlier masterpieces. 

How did you become a professional artist?

I become a professional artist because I can’t imagine being anything else. To make a living, I earned my Ph.D. and work as a college professor. I first identified as an artist when I began my nightly painting routine at 14 years of age. I recall my high school art teacher’s astonishment when I would bring the previous night’s work into class. I found his reaction amusing since, for me, painting was not schoolwork but rather a delight that provided sustenance and tranquility. 

What are the influences and inspirations in your work?

Influences include the imagery that permeated the visual landscape of my childhood in the nineteen sixties and seventies, from snapshots and super 8 films of the small postwar ranch home where I grew up to memories of gumball machines and stingray bikes. As reflected in my current paintings, the brightly colored bold striped patterning of that time on products from cars to couture is indelibly imprinted on my aesthetic subconscious. 

David Rufo, portrait by S*an D. Henry-Smith.

How is your work different than everything else out there?

My work is different because it is a reflection of my personal life experiences. It is an inward rather than outward-looking process that involves the absorption, assimilation, and, finally, articulation of visual data I have contemplated throughout my life. The resulting work, therefore, seldom reflects the du jour art and stylistic trends of the time in which it was made. 

When is a piece finished for you?

The challenge of determining when a piece is finished is a classic struggle for artists. For my work, I developed a practical solution many years ago by which I adhere to the practice of only a single layer of paint on any portion of the canvas without any subsequent overpainting. Once the full surface of the work has been marked, the painting is deemed finished. This rule does not include the initial staining or washing using a diluted mixture of high-flow acrylic paint that often precedes the single layer of oil paint. On social media, I am often asked to halt the painting process and pronounce a work finished prior to covering the full surface. So far, I have chosen not to stop until each square inch includes some type of marking. Perhaps this is an unconscious homage to the allover painting approach in the Western Art Historical canon, even though I am also a great admirer of the minimalist aesthetic. 

What’s different about your current body of work?

Recently, I have decided to examine the brushstroke. This brushstroke series began as a meditation on the simple, straight stroke roughly between 1 and 8 inches long, as demonstrated in my 2022 oil painting, The Icing on the Cake. Parallel bands of vivid brushstrokes run vertically and horizontally over the picture plane. A thin space between each stroke allows the warm gray background to filter through, and this separation creates a color “glow” (Gompertz, 2012) which heightens the visual punch. 

What would you like collectors and curators to know about your work?

My work has developed over decades and will continue to evolve. I have an aversion to stasis, get bored easily, and do not enjoy what most others consider relaxation. For instance, when on vacation, I can only sit on the beach in Amagansett for 30 minutes or so before I need to head back up to our room and work on a painting using a portable watercolor set which is usually followed by my reflective writing practice. In my writing, I contemplate and consider the intersections and interstitial spaces between creativity and education. My writings (I have published numerous articles in educational journals, which may be accessed via my academia.edu site) are mainly research stories about the self-initiated creative actions of children, which also greatly influence my work as an artist. My most recent works are titled after muscle cars from the late 1960s and early 1970s. I recall as a child the frequent interruptions that would occur during the balmy tranquility of summer nights as these vehicles would pause momentarily at the stop sign in front of our home only to suddenly peel out with a viscous squeal of the tires and explosive growl of the engine. With my window open, it felt as though they were going to crash right through my bedroom wall. It was a terrifying and exhilarating experience that remains with me still. 

“The Icing on the Cake”, oil on canvas, 52 x 42 in | 132 x 107 cm, 2022

Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career.

Receiving recognition from the contemporary art world establishment and my creative peers is always welcome and encouraging. However, the most significant and impactful moments for me have been when a layperson or child comments on my work offering pithy yet compelling insight. These remarks are the ones that remain with me and eventually find their way into my work. 

What’s coming up for you?

Currently, my work is showing at the Reisman Hall Gallery at Cazenovia College. I am also in discussion with a curator in the Hamptons regarding an exhibition during the 2023 summer season. 

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out today?

I tell my students if you are an artist, there is no reason why you cannot continue to produce art. Visual artists are in the fortunate position of being able to continue working no matter their circumstances. If you eventually find yourself in the incredibly rare situation of having regular shows and being able to make a living off of your work, great! If not, no matter. Unlike some other forms of art, you do not need a specific venue or audience to produce work. If you lack a large studio space, you can create small-scale work, as I was required to do for many years prior to the building of our new home. If you need to work full-time to support yourself financially, you can always carve out time each day or night to work on your art. When I was an elementary classroom teacher before becoming a college professor, I continued the habit of painting at night after the rest of my family had gone to bed. This routine has remained and is one which I look forward to each day. 

Who are some of your favorite underappreciated artists that you don’t think get enough attention?

I believe that artists Matthew Satz and Richmond Burton, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing in their studios, have and continue to offer profound explorations of the art historical canon and deserve more attention. Richard Tinkler is another favorite whose work sparkles from an accumulation of small secretive strokes, creating an aura that effectively expands the impact of his work well beyond his modest-sized canvases. Susan Carr, is an artist’s artist whose childlike renditions and flights of fancy belie her imploding, densely overworked layers of viscous paint. As far as younger artists, there are a number who have seemed to hit their stride and are already producing a solid body of work, including Kate Bickmore whose sensuous florals are at once contemporary, symbolic, and historical. Carrie Rudd who seems to embody the spirit of the enfant terrible as she enacts deeply expressive and often surprising actions across the surfaces of her canvases. Courtney Garvin with photographs reminiscent of the seemingly deadpan yet deeply felt work of Rineke Dijkstra and Catherine Opie where everyday figures and places become supercharged, exuding a saturated and hushed vitality. The work of S*an D. Henry-Smith combines photography and poetry to closely observe what most of us ignore and keenly perceives that which often goes unnoticed. Sam Finkelstein’s chunky carved stone sculptures, tiny or massive, all read as monumental imbued with primordial personalities. Cartoonish and crass, they somehow remain as solemn reminders of our collective past. Finally, art teacher Noelle Vainikka uses whatever is at hand to create lovely, small-scale works conjuring the charm and joy of unadulterated expression.  

“Split-Window Coupe”, oil on canvas, 54 x 42 in | 137 x 107 cm, 2022

To learn more about David and his work, please visit www.davidjohnrufo.com.