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