Discussions of the many developments happening in the Gowanus neighborhood tend to spark controversy nowadays. Whether it’s public outcry of a Pre-K being built on top of a possible mass grave for a Civil War regiment, real estate prices in the neighborhood, or the terribly polluted Gowanus Canal, the news can be forever frustrating.
Well, the good news is that there’s … good news — as far as the art world goes.
While the closing of the interdisciplinary artistic collective Proteus Gowanus last summer at 543 Union Street was definitely a loss for the community, the space showed signs of life once again in the late Fall. Ute Zimmermann and Joel Beck opened the Gowanus Souvenir Shop in last November, which is an amalgam of for-profit gift shop and supporter of local artists and businesses. In addition, the shop has a large, raw space that serves as an art gallery, event space for local authors, a place to show films, as well as a rental space for special events.
The newest exhibit is a set of intriguing paintings of local artist Lance Rutledge. The collection, entitled “This Used To Be My Studio” will be running through Sunday, February 14.
“We are showing Lance because we love his work and its subtle poetry and humor,” says owner Ute Zimmerman. “He is also a local Gowanus-based artist […] it is part of the shop’s purpose to present and thereby support the local creative community. ”
Rutledge’s collection — with a strong curative eye by owner and artist Joel Beck — spans 25 years of his work, and features some pieces that were created in the actual space of the exhibit years ago.
Rutledge used the space during the Proteus Gowanus years, which was opened by Sasha Chavchavadze in 2005. As the usage of the space shifted and adjusted, Rutledge moved into the smaller room next door (now the spaced used by the Gowanus Souvenir Shop).
But Rutledge is a veteran at shifting spaces, as most artists (sometimes fortunately, sometimes unfortunately) are used to doing. “I always lived on the edge,” he says. His former neighborhoods include Chelsea (certainly not the Chelsea of now), DUMBO (again, not the DUMBO of now), and Boerum Hill.
Stylistically, it won’t surprise you when viewing Rutledge’s paintings that urban environment serves as a major influence. He aptly describes his process as “alchemical,” mixing elements that together synchronize into an enriched work. Rutledge also speaks about “manipulating color.”
Layers also play an invaluable role in Rutledge’s oeuvre — including the use of text.
Rutledge studied poetry in college, so it’s not surprising that stories and language are part of his work. “I like distilling down to short phrases,” he says.
Rutledge tells us the text on many of his paintings often comes after the paint layers are applied. “The words comes from my imagination,” he says. “Sometimes I see something in the corner of my eye; I then use it, and twist it.
There’s often mischief and whimsy in the sentences he uses. “I was on the subway once and saw an advertisement. It said ‘Hernias may not be the problem…’,” describes Rutledge. “But I read it as ‘Hyenas may not be the problem,’ and that became the text I used.”
The painting “Sodom and Gomorrah, My Kind of Town,” refers to the song Frank Sinatra made famous…. “My Kind of town Chicago is, my kind of town…”
In what certainly is a departure from his other work, Rutledge has created a piece specifically for this exhibit. Titled “Canal No. 5,” it plays on the whimsy of the “curious perfumes” that emanate from the Gowanus Canal. It connects to the humorous products available at Gowanus Souvenir that riff on neighborhood’s infamous body of water.
Rutledge didn’t originally consider this a retrospective, however he says “it turned out that way a bit.” And viewing his older work in addition to his new pieces has been exciting to him. “The meaning of some of them have changed over time — certainly from what I may have thought they were about back then,” he says.
“In a way, they seem more relevant now than when they were first complete.”
The Exhibition Rundown: This Use To Be My Studio: Paintings by Lance Rutledge
Where: Gowanus Souvenir Shop, 543 Union Street (the entrance is on Nevins Street, and down the alley, and on the left)
When:Thursdays and Fridays, 3pm-7pm, Saturdays and Sundays, 11am-7pm. Through Sunday, February 21.
Admission: Free. Price list for artwork available at gallery. In addition to his other paintings, “Canal No. 5” is available in postcard and tote at Gowanus Souvenir.
The exhibition space is also available for rent as an event space and a coworking space. More information can be found on their website.