An Interview with R&S 9.2 Cover Artist David Ruhlman

by Holli Steinmetz

David Ruhlman has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art History from the University of Utah. His work has been featured in over 20 exhibitions from 2008-2015 and was used in the 9.2 Fall issue of Rock & Sling as both cover and content art. David’s gallery features paintings, handmade books, collaborations and fascinating newspaper clippings.

Holli Steinmetz: In the pieces we used for Rock & Sling 9.2 issue, there are many images of Jesus Christ and lambs. Do you have a religious background that encourages these paintings, or is it more of a fascination with these figures?

David Ruhlman: I would say that there is a deep fascination with religious symbols and figures. In college I took a class called “Myth, Magic, and Religion,” which I loved, and I think those three words encapsulate much of my work and interests. Religious symbols and images hold so much power and sway that as an artist I wanted to try and transform them.

HS: What was your inspiration behind the Cat/astrophe series?

DR: It is quite an old series. It started after viewing a photo exhibit documenting the children of the Chernobyl disaster. It was horrifying and incredibly moving. The images stuck with me. I also found some old children’s chalkboards at a thrift shop. I had a fantastic little cat named Suzy and one day an image of a sad injured cat came to me. So I decided to do a series of injured cats based loosely on the disaster. I haven’t thought about those paintings in a while but they each still hold a little piece of my heart.

HS: From looking through your gallery, I’ve noticed a consistent use of newspaper clippings. What was your intention behind pairing, for example, the felt pictures and the Russian newspaper in “Everything has a shape (part 1)”? Or the Russian newspaper and the brighter geometric pictures in “Rabbit sees radar”?

DR: I have always been fascinated by art that is difficult to date or place in time. Regarding the Russian newspapers, aesthetically I find them quite beautiful. For me there is a timeless vernacular quality to the newspaper and a slightly unnerving presence.   he painting “Everything has a shape (part 1)” came about after finding a packet of felt pictures at a thrift store that were used for Sunday school lessons. I liked the idea of placing these images in acts of lasciviousness and danger.  The “rabbit sees radar” came after covering a board with book pages and burying it for the winter. After unburying it I wanted to use geometric shapes instead of my usual narrative images.

HS: Some of your inspiration comes from subject matter that could be considered disturbing/gruesome (specifically the Found (1931-1946) series). What kind of message do you wish to portray using/creating “dark” subjects/images?

DR: I am drawn to the transformation of an object. Also rather than gruesome I would replace it with having a dark humor. The Found (1931-1946) series were a packet of newspaper clippings that I found at a thrift store.  I think looking at many of those clippings you cannot help but chuckle at some of the stories.  It reminds me of a quote of Jean Dubuffet: “Art should always make people laugh a little and frighten them a little. Anything but bore them. Art has no right to be boring.”

I paint the things that interest me and that I would want hung up in my house. Many of them are little stories that I am fascinated by or ideas that I want to develop. This world is a strange and endlessly compelling place that I try and understand and experience through my art.

HS: I was looking through your gallery of handmade books and was fascinated by both “A life leading towards disappearance/ Die Frau, Die War” and “Are we not ghosts confined.” Each book has such a unique style but I find them both equally haunting in a way. What was your intention/inspiration behind these books?

DR: The whole book series came about after a friend gave me the front and back cover of a book that he thought I would like.  I quickly and punched some holes in it and put a few pages in.  I found that I loved making them and over 2-3 years made around 45 handmade books with many of the books having 20-30 pages of art.  I hadn’t taken art classes and used these books to teach myself how to draw, collage, and finally paint.

I would find a old book, take out the existing pages and sew in my own.  I would usually start with a title or an idea and work tirelessly to finish it. I think they played a huge part in my painting style and aesthetic. They are slightly hermetic, filled with personal symbols and mythologies.

The “A life leading towards disappearance/ Die Frau, Die War” was created using dirt, oil pastel and pencil.  As the title suggests it was created after an especially difficult event. On the other end, “Are we not ghosts confined” was my last book of the 45 that I created (I have gone back in recent years to make a few new ones.) I bought some crappy gouache and thought I would try my hand at painting. I didn’t feel it went too badly so I then thought I would paint on wood panels that I could put up on my wall.  So that was the last book before I started trying my hand at painting.

HS: What is it about this specific medium that draws you?

DR: I taught myself how to paint using gouache, so it is familiar to me. I love the matte quality of gouache and the vibrancy of the colors. Most of the acrylic that I have seen or used has a glossy finish that I hated. Gouache is pretty difficult to use because it is water based, so if it gets wet even years later, it reactivates it and can ruin the painting. I wouldn’t mind finding better quality acrylic but so far gouache works great.

HS: Do you keep some kind of running list/notebook/journal of ideas/inspirations for future art?

DR: I sure do. I have a sketchbook that I use and also usually have paper and pen in the car and beside the bed. The sketches are usually very rudimentary. I usually work things out as I paint. I have lists of titles that I like and I usually have a painting or two planned after the current one I am working on. I have Paul Klee’s quote in my studio that states “every day a line,” so I always try and get in and work out current/future paintings.

Holli Steinmetz is a junior English Major on the Writing track at Whitworth University. She is the Assistant Fiction Editor for Rock & Sling. Outside of school Holli is an aspiring artist with interests in 2D art as well as sculpting.


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