blackbirdonline journalSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1

Eleanor Rufty: New and Selected Work

  Elizabeth King
   The Moment Between Moments 

Eleanor Rufty
   Artist’s Statement 

Wesley Gibson


From December 2020 through January 2021, Quirk Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia, hosted a show of new charcoals, pastels, and paintings by Richmond artist Eleanor Rufty. Curated by Gallery Director Adam Dorland, the show occupied the gallery space on the ground floor of the new Quirk Hotel in Charlottesville's historic downtown district. Most of the twenty-one works on view were completed during the lock-down months of Covid 2020.

The exhibition underlined what observers of Rufty’s work have long known—that she is a remarkable and adept master of her media, at home in the mystery of her created world—and her fellow artist Elizabeth King begins to unpack that mastery in “Eleanor Rufty: The Moment Between Moments,” the essay published here.

 The Beach Pictures: . . . when the shadow of a cloud . . .
 pastel on tinted watercolor paper
 29.5 x 41 inches

As King writes:

[Rufty] conjures composition and figure entirely from her mind’s eye. Yes, she works from life, but from the life within her. Oil paint and wax on panel, or charcoal and pastel on paper, make their own demands the moment she picks up brush or stick, and she pays attention. Every work is a dance between mind, eye, hand, and matter.

How does she do it? She simply begins. Drawing—as in drawing water from a well—is her born impulse; hand over hand she pulls forms into view from unfigured depths. Mark by mark, fragments from what she calls her “subliminal vocabulary” appear and begin to coalesce, like chromosome fragments. As she works, a line comes to represent something, perhaps the curve of a shoulder, or a distant silhouette. It is a process of evolution.

Images from the exhibition illustrate the essay.

 The Beach Pictures: . . . on the verge of a scene.
 pastel on tinted watercolor paper
 29.5 x 41 inches

Also collected here are Rufty’s artist’s statement for her recent work accompanied by a photograph of the artist (by photographer John Henley), and a commentary on an earlier show by Rufty’s friend (and Blackbird’s) writer Wesley Gibson.

As Gibson concludes:

But Rufty’s figures, at once iconic and specific in their rendering, do carry enormous suggestions of rich interior lives. But their lives remind mysterious in the way that people are always mysterious. That, for me, is the triumph of the work. It isn’t so much that the stories or character have been explicated, but that the mystery of those stories and people has had a grave light cast upon it. That seems like more than enough and I am content to do without narratives and simple psychologizing in exchange for this more complicated truth.  end

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