Close to Home: New Pastels by Ray Ruseckas

June 26 - October 25, 2015

The hillsides, forests, and glades of the Connecticut River valley are Ray Ruseckas’s stomping grounds and inspiration. Ruseckas renders the changing dynamics of land in all seasons, deftly capturing fleeting
atmospheric effects as well as the rhythms and proportions of place.

Ruseckas manipulates pastels like no other artist. His surfaces retain only a vestige of the dry, velvety softness we usually associate with the medium. He achieves a more painterly, liquid pooling of colors both subtle and rich. Deep earth tones melt into gossamer tints, and he deploys a seemingly infinite range of blacks and whites.

The artist’s command of his medium heightens the dramatic tension. Through refined tonal shifts or contrast between light and dark, Ruseckas produces an effect of psychological apprehension, a frisson between what is seen and what is implied or felt.

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

Click here to view selected images from the exhibit.

In 1992 I naively made my first pastel picture, without expectations. Working as a carpenter in Hawaii, with extra time on my hands at the end of a workday, I found myself in an art store in Honolulu, having no idea what pastels or paper to buy. I had never taken an art course in school and, at age 38, had never once tried to make a piece of art.

That first pastel, I knew, was a drawing that could easily have been outdone by a kindergartener. I believed I could do better, if only I had more than twelve colors. So I went back to the store—and thus began an art-making journey, a quest to make a better piece every time I started another picture. Twenty-three years later, with encouragement from people I respect, my quest continues.

Through my picture framing business, I have the opportunity to see close-up a full spectrum of artwork. This has been my education.

I have stayed with dry pastels, as opposed to oil pastels, to demonstrate the medium’s versatility and dispel a common bias about the nature of many pastel paintings. I often work with fixative while it’s still wet, which allows me to grind the pastel stick into the paper and the previous layers, pushing the colors around and changing the texture. I have also focused on the overlooked landscape, not blue skies and autumn colors. Instead, I’m attracted to the subtler beauty—the quiet, subdued, private, even melancholic landscape.

Am I an artist just because I make art? I never set out to be an “artist,” and I’ve felt I should concern myself not with the title, but with continuing the quest for a better pastel. It has become more and more difficult to make a better piece, and sometimes I even feel I’m going backwards. Why go through so much trouble, then? The answer is simple: I can’t stop now. I want to make something of beauty, while pushing the limits of pastels.

For this show I promised new work, which adds another element of difficulty. But I hope there will be an air of freshness and the effect of catching me in the middle of the act.

— Ray Ruseckas