The brushes of Ken Rush depict landscapes mysterious and familiar
DANBY — Ken Rush paints from his mind and with his body, with one foot in Brooklyn and the other in the mountains of Vermont, where he spent summers as a boy.
Among the confluence of circumstances that landed him in his 18th century home in Danby, it happens that his direct ancestors from the Revolutionary War era are buried in a churchyard down the road. Also, it was discovered that his wife Chris's ancestors built the original farm house the couple bought in 1993. A painting he did as a 17-year-old hangs in the studio, embryonic of the paintings that would follow in the ensuing five decades. Son George carries on the tradition of illustrious painters in the Rush family.
Rush graduated from Syracuse University School of Fine Arts, but it was his own high school mentor who inspired him to become an artist and to teach.
"I discovered that art was fulfilling, challenging," he said. "By teaching art, I wanted to do what my teacher at Taft did for me."
It was the teacher's barest words of affirmation to a careening teen — "That's not bad" — that cemented the boy's determination to become a painter. He carried on, "understanding that a patient, attentive teacher could unlock possibilities, that the kids might have something to say," rather than just teaching the how-to skills.
Rush built his own sap house in Danby and designed this studio, where all the action happens.
His images emerge from his mind; they are not preconceived or copied from photos. Typically his large canvases begin with either a cool or a warm ground, and the building blocks that have become his country trope — the triangular pitch of a New England roof, squares of windows and panes, strong vertical lines of his trademark telephone poles — take their places in broad daylight, dappled shade or at nighttime.
Rush's paintings may begin in an abstract and expressionistic style, but eventually the shapes emerge and settle.
"When I start a painting, I don't know how it'll finish," he said.
But there's no lack of confidence here, but rather the excitement of embarking on a psychological journey.
He uses palette knives and lots of paint, and enjoys the physicality of working on large canvases: "I like using my whole body, not just the wrist." Rush's color spectrum is broad and vibrant, from bright greens and oranges to velvety blacks, and everything in between.
One painting, a nocturne, is dark and mysterious, with tiny bright spots of red and orange that might be carnival or party lights sparkling in the distance. Without being explicit, the painting might suggest a summer night, and people having fun. But to someone else, it could depict some unknown drama. There is an intellectual integrity to his work; the viewer is invited to interpret what they see. There's an emotional quality than emanates from every canvas.
With his recurrent iterations of rectangles, squares, the recurrent telephone poles — "I recognize they're going to be nostalgic at some point" — there's always some indication of people (although they themselves are rarely depicted) and very often, their houses. A house not only contains human lifetimes — it occupies its own time, wearing the shadows, or bleaching in the sun, or warmed by an inner light glowing behind a shade.
"Is this house empty? Is it a vacation cabin? A house with lots of memories or a mysterious house that doesn't have answers?" Rush ponders, holding no claim to having the answer himself.
The geometric shapes echo in both the country and city locales. In the avenues of New York, Rush sees comparisons to the heights and shadows of the Vermont landscape.
"I'll take the dogs for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and look back over the river and see the canyons and valleys of the tall buildings," he said.
After retiring from a 43-year career of teaching art, he is now able to devote himself full-time to his painting, but his wife still teaches in the city. The city/country dichotomy will continue to inspire Ken Rush with a synergy that makes interpretations of his imagined Vermont and New York inviting, accessible, intriguing.
Ken Rush will be the featured artist at 3 Pears Gallery on the Dorset Green, from Aug. 22 to Sept. 21.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.