At the Academy Art Museum: John Ruppert on Being Grounded by John Ruppert

Published on Oct 13, 2015

There was little question that the Academy Art Museum's curator, Anke Van Wagenberg, was eager to challenge the Mid-Shore art community with concurrent exhibitions this Fall of abstractionist Ken Schiano and John Rupport's raw sculptures and photography. While different in approach, material, and vision, both men demand that their audiences look at art in radical new ways.  

The Spy sat down with Ken last month to talk about his work, and more recently caught up with John at the recent opening of his exhibition, entitled "Grounded."

Ruppert’s recent work includes shapes he formed from chain-link fabric and cast metals that blurs traditional lines between natural and man-made materials. His cast pumpkins can be seen in the Museum’s front yard as well as his large scale composite photographs as part of that point of view.


Exhibition installation view with  Split Rocks, Gourd,  and photographs.

Exhibition installation view with Split Rocks, Gourd, and photographs.

Three huge pumpkins cast in aluminum and another one in rust-red iron lie on the Academy Art Museum’s front lawn. Sagging under their own great weight, they cheerfully evoke the force of gravity, one of John Ruppert’s favorite subjects. But although his exhibit, on view both outside and inside the Museum through November 8, is titled Grounded, gravity is only one force he conjures in his sculptures and large photographs. This show unfolds as a study of the ever-changing nature of physical form as Ruppert traces the effects of changing light, shifting atmospheres, moving water, geological forces, and time itself.

Like a young child or a scientist, Ruppert has a lively curiosity about the natural world and the ways its elements affect how we live. He is fascinated with the pull of gravity, the fiery origins of rock, the persistence of eroding waves, and lightning’s splintering power. But although his sculptures and photographs are large and powerful, they are tempered with impish humor.

Sharing the front lawn with the pumpkins is “Yellow Gourd, Homage to Van Gogh” from his ongoing series of vessel-shaped sculptures made of chain-link fencing held upright by the tension of its own structure. Most of these vessels are strikingly symmetrical, but this eleven-foot wide ovoid purposefully lists a little sideways, just like a gourd, and glows as yellow as one of Van Gogh’s sunflowers against the green of the grass.

A veteran of numerous gallery and museum shows and the recipient of many grants, awards and residencies, Ruppert has become known for his castings of rocks and “lightning strikes,” the splintered shafts of wood split when trees are hit by lightning. Jagged verticals towering nearly nine feet tall, his three freestanding “Lightning Strikes” dramatically evoke the brute force of lightning, but Ruppert doesn’t leave it there.

A quartet of smaller strikes, all cast from the same mold, are lined up on one wall like color samples at a paint store. Similar but not identical, each was cast with a different metal—bronze, stainless steel, copper or iron. It’s a textbook comparison of the varying effects of color, texture, detailing and sheen a sculptor can expect from these diverse materials. There are sparkly glints in the copper, while the soft sheen of the oxides left on the stainless steel trails off into delicate, lacy edges. The iron picks up much less detail yet there’s strength in its primordial reddish glow, and the frost of lichen-green patina on the sooty black of the bronze highlights the intricacies of the craggy wood grain lending it a quality of ancient hoariness.

Ruppert’s fascination with the process of creation is tangible throughout this show. His subjects invariably speak of their own making, whether they were formed by nature or by the artist. His sculptures are laced with ragged seams left by the molds they were cast from. Rather than polish this evidence away, Ruppert leaves them as clues to the process of their fabrication. Similarly, the subjects he photographs testify to their own particular origins.

Two tall vertical photographs share one wall of the gallery. Shot in the British Virgin Islands, glints of water in a shadowy chamber formed by a pile of massive granite boulders in “The Baths, Virgin-Gorda” tell of primeval lava flows, geological shifts in the sea floor, and millennia of weathering by waves and wind. The labyrinth of entryways and chambers in “White Chamber Agra Fort,” inside a UNESCO World Heritage site in India, shows the cleverness of its builders in designing to prevent a charge by the enemy’s elephants, then the primary vehicles of battle. In both cases, the photos describe the origins of places, natural or manmade, even as they masterfully evoke the intimacy of interior space and the promise of what can be glimpsed beyond.

Each of the images in this exhibit was created from a series of photographs digitally stitched together. This technique allows Ruppert to achieve a crystalline clarity throughout even as he combines individual moments of changing light and slightly altered perspective. These almost subliminal shifts give rise to an inkling that these places are not static and fixed in time but always changing and evolving, always in process.

There’s a pleasing irony in Ruppert’s work. His fine craftsmanship and mastery of sculptural and photographic techniques imbues his work with a quality of strength and physicality, yet his ideas are rooted in an exploration of the eternal process of change. The hardest rocks are worn smooth and round; the tallest tree is splintered by a flash of lightning. Throughout his work, time, the fourth dimension, is as palpable as solid form. Only one thing can be counted on and that is that time will change everything.

John Ruppert Interview by Parul : Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi by John Ruppert

4 Day International Art Conclave, Chandigarh, India.

Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi organised a 4 day International Art Conclave from 10th to 13 February 2015 in which 9 artists from Finland, Germany, Sweden, UK and USA gave audio visual presentations about their art work at the Auditorium of Government Museum & Art Gallery, Sector 10, Chandigarh.

The Participating artists are: John Ruppert from USA, Anne Bean from UK, Peter Fink from UK, Ali Najjar from Sweden, Ger Alois-Zwing from Germany, Avtarjeet Dhanjal from UK, Sanna Karlsson-Sutisna from Finland, Richard Cox from UK and Richard Deacon from UK.

It is all too well-known that the multi-cultural ethos of the Indian sub-continent has helped nourish the various nuances of its arts - be it languages, poetry, music, dance, theater and the visual arts apart from architecture, the cousins, attire, the political and geographical landscape. The centuries long coexistence of these varied ethnic groups has helped create a genre of its own and enriched the art-scape with a unique fusion of ideas and existential realities. This sensitivity to diversity that is intrinsic to our cultural realities in some way made this the perfect venue for an engagement such as the International Art Conclave.

Review: John Ruppert's striking composite photos of Icelandic terrain on display at Grimaldis Gallery by John Ruppert

Black Lake, Orange Sky/Kleifarvatn

Black Lake, Orange Sky/Kleifarvatn

By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

For most of John Ruppert's career, metal sculpture has been a major focus, but he has added photography to his pursuits lately. Some of the results can be sampled and savored in an exhibit at C. Grimaldis Gallery titled "The Iceland Project."

The Massachusetts-born artist, who has a studio in Druid Hill, was one of the first winners of the $25,000 Baker Prize in 2009. He has been a faculty member at the University of Maryland, College Park, since 1987 and chair of its art department for the past 15 years.

Ruppert spent a month in Iceland and took a large number of shots that he subsequently fused to create "multiple image composites" of the stark, often sculptural terrain. The manipulative process is evident not just in the strangely colored skies, but also in subtle nuances that reveal themselves on closer inspection.
In a few of the works, the presence of human culture can be barely detected — a low fence winding through a desolate hilltop, for example, in "Laki Ridge," a work that jolts with its avocado green sky. Another such jolt is delivered by "Black Lake, Orange Sky/Kleifarvatn." This 40-by-40-inch print is 95 percent sky; at the bottom of the print, the placid lake creates a striking horizon line.

Ruppert has spoken of choosing "turbulent" hues for the skies as a way to suggest how things might have looked when Iceland was formed. And since that North Atlantic country remains very much geologically alive, the vibrancy in such photos becomes all the more telling.

Even in pieces without surprising celestial hues, there are unusual elements to be found. A horizontal view of a sea wall takes on the quality of a bold abstract canvas, with rock edges where brusque brush strokes would be. A vertical image of a waterfall is separated into sections, like a splice of movie film, and seems to roll like one, too.

One of the most impressive works, "Hekla," is a long panoramic view (20x1091/2 inches) that captures Iceland's most active volcano in the distance with rolling, lunar-like hills in the foreground.
A bank of white clouds hovers around the peak, complementing the blankets of snow running along the mountainside. But not everything in the sky seems naturally cumulus. It looks as if bits of snow have peeled off the earth and floated up to meet the clouds.

Another compelling composite, "Inside Crater/Laki," is a landscape in rich colors and shades. There's a painterly aspect to this — think late-Monet — right down to the bits of blurring where different photos have been gently meshed.  Ruppert's methods can be more upfront. In "Glacier Crevasse/Svinafellsjokull," the beautifully composed image of weather-beaten snowpacks and bits of earth suddenly gains an extra edge when you spot the serrated side of a photo used to create one side of a hill.
The digital manipulation in these works does not make them less real, but, in a way, more personal. You sense an artist trying to encompass not just everything he saw in this wildly interesting place, but everything he felt, everything he wanted to grasp.

A few of the pieces that were in the exhibit when it opened are in Florida with the Grimaldis booth at the Art Miami fair, but are due back next week. Even without them, "The Iceland Project" provides an absorbing journey.


by Mary McCoy

There are elemental forces at work in John Ruppert’s work. In his exhibit at Washington College’s Kohl Gallery, on view through October 6, Ruppert investigates the moon, the sun, gravity, and the alchemy of fiery heat and metals, in short, the forces that made this earth and keep it going.  A rock sits on the gallery floor side by side with its twin, a copy of itself cast in iron. Would you look at the shadowy concavities, craggy angles and weightiness of this rock as closely if it sat alone? Staged with its duplicate, it invites puzzling out the differences between its grainy mineral textures and the faintly velvety rusting surface of the casting. The intense heat of molten metal comes to mind, but how does that compare with the unimaginable fiery temperatures and pressures that formed the rock? And which is more interesting, the rock or its manmade facsimile?

Ruppert is a wizard at raising such questions, and he works on many levels. Some of his concerns are familiar to any student of art. Catching shadows cast on water, he plays with foreground and background in a photo of moonlight on a lake, and he pushes the boundaries of perception with a black-on-black photo of a spruce tree wreathed in darkness. With his tall, jagged sculptures cast from wood splintered by lightning, he casually references “Bird in Flight,” Brancusi’s inspired encapsulation of the joyous rush of flight. Duchamp’s found object sculptures and the Minimalists’ use of industrial materials are the predecessors of his turning of a mundane and slightly obnoxious material, chain-link fencing, into art.

A long-time teacher of sculpture and drawing at the University of Maryland, College Park, and veteran of many museum and gallery shows, he is thoroughly ensconced in the art world. But Ruppert doesn’t set his sculptures on pedestals, and that’s a clue that the real subject of his work is the natural world. By placing his sculptures directly on the floor, he grounds them, maintaining their simplicity and signally they are truly of the earth. 

The relationship of earth and sky is fundamental in much of Ruppert’s work, and he explores it in both his photographs and his “Lightning Strike” series. Inspired by a shattered piece of pine he found while walking in the woods, the latter works on a theme familiar in art as well as in folklore—the tree as a conduit between the two realms. In his bronze or iron castings of wood splintered by lightning, the strength and structure of the growing tree are faithfully reproduced in the details of its wood grain. The violent power of the lightning is also plain to see, particularly in the gleam of a polished edge in “Bronze Wall Strike.” Curiously, the effect is a simultaneous evocation of the tree, the lightning and the devastating instant of impact.

Ruppert’s photographs also capture meetings in time and space. His digital shots of shifting light and darkness are so subtly and richly hued that they read almost as paintings or pastel drawings. Quieter and more introspective than his sculptures, they speak of even more immense forces and remind us that the changing light of sun and moon were for millennia the only clues humans had to the mechanics of earth’s relationship to the cosmos.

The seemingly monochrome “Final Light” delicately blooms with color as you focus in on its gray sky tinged with blue above a horizon marked with three dark islands. In the sea spreading before them, gray-blue and gray-pink gently weave together to form waves. The luminous softness Ruppert has captured comes from the light of the setting sun refracting through the atmosphere back to the eastern horizon. In this instant, as sea, islands and the breathable layer of air protecting them wait to be engulfed by the approaching darkness, you can feel the mighty turning of the earth rolling away from the sun.

The photographs and cast sculptures in this exhibit share a sensuous elegance that speaks of the power and beauty of the natural world, but one sculpture is odd man out. “Crucible,” an open-bottomed cone of chain-link fencing, stands by itself near a corner of the gallery. Gleaming in the gallery lights and radiating intricately patterned shadows on the floor, it has a kind of beauty but it’s also mildly off-putting. Why would Ruppert use this bland, utilitarian material? It’s another one of his mischievous questions.

A crucible is a vessel in which metals or other substances are transformed into something new. It’s a physical version of the mythic cauldron of possibilities, the alchemical source of all creation. Open at the bottom (perhaps indicating open-ended possibilities), it’s also a diagram of gravity. The weave of the fencing pulls against itself as gravity pulls down on its flaring sides. Its circular symmetry preserves its delicate balance and neatly forms ametaphor for the equilibrium that makes life on earth possible.

Primary forces like gravity and sunlight go almost unnoticed in everyday life but they’re always present. Noticing them is not our habit, at least not outside the parochial boundaries of the sciences. Yet earlier cultures considered them to be key to existence and made a point of acknowledging and celebrating them. This is a nearly lost sensibility and perhaps it’s at the root of our modern-day lack of a deep understanding of our place on earth. With simple and straightforward means, Ruppert slyly conjures the intricate relationships of natural forces on this planet.
Ruppert is first in a series of Distinguished Visitors brought to Washington College as part of its new initiative, Sandbox. Supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Sandbox is an interdisciplinary program investigating the relationships of the individual, society and the environment through creative collaboration between the arts and the sciences.

Art Above and Under Water, Doreen Bolger by John Ruppert

Art-Full Life

Art Above and Under Water

Posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2011 at 11:15 am

I am so glad I caught John Ruppert’s amazing show, "The Nature of Things", at C. Grimaldis Gallery before we were distracted by earthquakes, hurricanes, and power outages!  Hope you got there, too—but just in case—I wanted to add a few words on this recently closed but memorable exhibition, which raises the bar for all of us here in Baltimore.

As I arrived, the shades across the gallery’s front windows were drawn closed and the first gallery was darkened.  At its center stood Sunken Grid with Strike and Koi Projection, a huge metal mesh coop, a series of boxes, three across and four down, linked together and listing to one side, as if it had sunk into the wooden floor at an angle.   A cast iron fragment evoking a tree limb or trunk—a cast lightning strike long familiar from John’s work—rested across the coop, as though it had floated gently into place.

Just as I thought “this must be a sunken treasure,” I realized that the video projected across its surface showed a swirling school of carp, their orange and white bodies flickering on the floor, through the coop, and onto the walls.  I was submerged in the silent-but-very-busy depths of an unknown ocean, a witness to the intersection between man and nature.  As we learned these past two weeks, man is not always in control of the outcome!

Not far away, a boulder sat in the corner of the room surrounded by an aureole of rust, perhaps a misplaced fragment of a mountain that has dropped into the water, too. This is actually a created object, not one found and re-purposed.  Its quiet presence reminded us of earth’s endurance, a counterbalance to John’s lightning-struck trees and abandoned treasures.

In Core with Rocks, an installation in the back gallery, a roll of galvanized steel netting stood tall, its concentric circles carefully built and arranged into a pattern that became denser and denser towards its center and its base. The intricate shadows cast by this piece were as much a part of its impact as the less ephemeral elements, three cast iron rocks, aged and rusted but none of their crisp, sharp contours yet smoothed by the wearing of time and elements.

John’s photographs rounded out the show.  These views of water in darkness—the elemental New England shoreline of John’s native Maine—bordered on abstraction.  Their rocks and islands, deep blue and purple and occasionally framed by a leafy surround, show a darkness only possible far from cities, even towns.  Despite their tie to a specific place and time, the simplicity and emotional power of works like Final Light are reminiscent of Mark Rothko and others in his generation.

It’s exciting to see so much growth and change in the work of an artist already recognized as a Mary Sawyers Baker award-winner—and all accomplished in 2011! If you ever have the chance, visit John’s Reservoir Hill studio, a cavernous building that was previously a church, a roller skating rink, and for the longest part of its life, a trolley warehouse.  On a visit to this majestic space earlier this summer, I saw familiar pieces resting in storage —lightning strikes, boulders, and chain link pieces, one suspended from the ceiling, its powerful bulbous shape looking like a deflated balloon—as well as an intriguing just-completed sound piece—water recorded gurgling through the center of a split rock.  John is already well on his way toward another body of work!

Check out John Ruppert’s studio—and his ever-evolving work—during the Open Studio Tour that will be held by Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts on Saturday, October 22, and Sunday, October 23, from 10 am to 6 pm.

Doreen Bolger

Review: Sculpture Garden by John Ruppert


Evergreen House Hosts a Monumental Outdoor Exhibition Sculpture at Evergreen

At Evergreen House through Oct. 31

One thing you don't expect to find installed on the well-manicured front lawn of Evergreen House is chain-link fencing.  After all, this Johns Hopkins University-administered house museum in North Baltimore is the epitome of late 19th- and early 20th-century elegance. The arts patron who made it her home, Alice Warder Garrett, loved beautiful objects and, for that matter, beautiful people and parties. The house and its decorative contents remain almost exactly as Garrett knew them, but the grounds have been temporarily remade, thanks to the exhibit Sculpture at Evergreen, whose contemporary, site-specific pieces relate to the artistic spirit of the house and the 26 acres surrounding it.

John Ruppert's "Four Orbs' for Evergreen," which you encounter along a front driveway as long as any you'll find in a Merchant-Ivory film, is the perfect introduction for this exhibit. And the show itself is an enjoyable and sometimes exhilarating example of what happens when sculptors respond to both natural and built environments.

Ruppert took a utilitarian material associated with industrial and backyard uses, bent the chain-link metal to form orblike vessels, and installed four of these orbs--three made of aluminum and one made of rusted steel--on the lawn rolling from Evergreen House down to the 4500 block of North Charles Street. These are very large orbs, each averaging 10 feet in diameter and 10 to 12 feet high. However, they're anything but weighty. Because they're made from chain-link fencing, you look through them as well as at them. They're even open-topped, making them more akin to an elegant vessel than a confining cage. And they're placed on the lawn in such a way that you can readily look from one to the next--through the next, actually--and see the house and grounds in a different way. One great view is to look through these curving forms and directly toward the bracingly vertical Corinthian columns on the house's portico.  

"The forms cascade down that expanse of lawn and play off the architecture," Ruppert says in an interview, adding that "the curve that's happening [in the shape of the orbs] is an extension of the curve of the driveway and the land. As you walk around, you become more aware of the site. The orbs frame things."

The interplay of orbs and lawn extends to the lawn itself, which is unmowed inside the orbs.  Ruppert notes that "the grass inside becomes a little sanctuary, and birds can fly in and out."  

In a sense, Ruppert's sculptures aren't the only ones for the birds. There's a lot of whimsical creativity displayed by the 10 mostly local sculptors, who were selected from the 120 artists who applied to be in this exhibit.

John Ruppert exemplifies what exhibit judge Michael Brenson was looking for when he made these 10 selections, because, as the former New York Times art critic says, Ruppert's "sculpture is done within the context of the space around it." Brenson says he wanted sculptors with "openness and curiosity about the site. It was a chance for them to respond to the site and not just do what they'd put in a gallery or another place."