BRIAN RUTENBERG: SYNCHRONICITY: FRANKLIN G. BURROUGHS & SIMEON B. CHAPIN ART MUSEUM Myrtle Beach, SC
1. the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection
The rich beauty and wonder of the South Carolina landscape permeate the work of ceramist Alice Ballard (b. 1945 Florence, SC) and painter Brian Rutenberg (b. 1965, Myrtle Beach, SC), who both share a deep connection with and great love of our region’s natural surroundings. Synchronicity is a nod not only to this thematic tie that harmonizes their markedly different art forms, but perhaps even more so to the serendipitous connections – both geographical and philosophical – that the artists continue to discover about the paths their lives and work have taken. Rutenberg remarks: “Synchronicity is when two people respond to one another from two different vantage points to make one expression. It is that personal response to nature that the viewer will come away with. We do it in very different ways: my work is 2D and filled with saturated color; Alice’s is 3D with a focus on value/monochromatism. We land in the same place, but in the middle, we diverge. It’s that place in the middle where viewers will have the biggest takeaway with their experience.”
Ballard and Rutenberg recently learned that their parents lived right around the corner from one another, once Ballard’s parents retired to the Pine Lakes neighborhood of Myrtle Beach. As Ballard fondly remembers childhood visits to Myrtle Beach for fun in the sun – Myrtle Beach being only an hour-and-a-half drive away from her hometown of Florence –, Rutenberg recalls going to Florence to go to the dentist since there wasn’t one at the beach. Rutenberg attended the College of Charleston (SC) for his undergraduate degree in art, where he studied under the renowned abstract painter William Halsey (1915 – 1999, Charleston, SC), husband of artist Corrie Parker McCallum (1914 – 2009, Sumter, SC). Ballard followed Corrie McCallum, who taught youth art classes at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, as the Museum’s first Curator of Education with funding from the South Carolina Arts Commission. Rutenberg’s very first solo exhibition was in 1989 at Francis Marion University in Florence, where Ballard was a visual arts educator. And though Ballard is most known for her work in ceramics, her degree is actually in Rutenberg’s wheelhouse: landscape painting.
Widely considered to be one of the finest American painters of his generation, Brian Rutenberg has spent 40 years honing a distinctive method of compressing the rich color and form of his native coastal South Carolina into complex landscape paintings that imbue material reality with a deep sense of place. It is often said that one should paint what they know, and for Rutenberg, it is the smell and feel of pluff mud and oysters, tall Southern pines and live oaks tangled in Spanish moss, and soft, warm sand separating the seemingly endless ocean from the bright neon lights of the Myrtle Beach skyline. It is, after all, his “clear seeing place,” which according to Rutenberg, is a necessity for art makers. And it is, indeed, his keen familiarity with and love for our part of the coast that radiates from every painted mark punctuating his perfectly composed, boldly colored compositions.
Alice Ballard’s elegant, white earthenware is grounded in nature with larger-than-life forms mimicking small treasures one might find on an outdoor walk in South Carolina – objects like sea shells, acorns, leaves and plant bulbs – that, when displayed together, conjure sacred, meditative spaces in which one is beckoned to enter, explore and savor the quiet and calm. For Ballard, her process of hand-building these clay objects is quite zen-like, as the shapes of her forms evolve based on her close observation of nature. Using terra sigillata, a fine white-clay slip, to coat the sculpted forms, Ballard finds that the singular use of white for color perfectly expresses how everything in nature – no matter how small – is a working part of the living, breathing planet, and we are all connected. “Our universal world in which differing life forms share so many similar qualities has become a particular focus for me, as it is a continuing reminder of the interconnectedness of us all and of all things.”
Alice Ballard received her BS in design and Masters in painting from the University of Michigan in 1968 before becoming a professional artist and educator. She received a Fulbright Grant to study in India; was one of eight international ceramic artists to be invited to the International Ceramic Colony in Resen, Macedonia, and received a South Carolina Arts Commission Individual Fellowship (2015). Ballard has had numerous solo shows at institutions including the Greenville County Museum of Art (Greenville, SC) and the Mint Museum of Art (Charlotte, NC) and is represented in the collections of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (Gatlinburg, TN), Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum (Myrtle Beach, SC), Greenville County Museum of Art (Greenville, SC), Mint Museum (Charlotte, NC), Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC), South Carolina Arts Commission and Tennessee Arts Commission. She currently resides and works in Clover, SC, with her husband, Roger.
Rutenberg received his BFA in 1987 from the College of Charleston (SC) and his MFA in 1989 from the School of Visual Arts, New York. He is a Fulbright Scholar, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow, a Basil Alkazzi USA Award recipient, an Irish Museum of Modern Art visiting artist program participant and has had over 250 exhibitions throughout North America. Rutenberg’s paintings are included in such museum collections as the Bronx Museum of Art (New York City, NY), Greenville County Museum of Art (Greenville, SC), Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT), Peabody Essex Museum of Art (Salem, MA), Provincetown Art Association and Museum (Provincetown, MA), South Carolina State Museum (Columbia, SC), The Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, OH) and many others. Rutenberg received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the College of Charleston, where he delivered the 2018 commencement address. He lives and works in New York City with his wife, Kathryn, and their two children.