AltDaily: So cool that you’re creating a mural with your students for the NEON Festival! Tell us about the class, and how this projects fits within the course–and college’s–missions.
John Rudel: The “Blue Sky” mural project is being worked on as part of a First Year Experience course that is paired with Painting 1 course. The “Marlin Mural Team” is the group of Freshpeople who expressed interest in the visual arts and are enrolled in this pairing. The FYE course intends to help incoming students understand how their liberal arts education will become a tool that will allow them to engage meaningfully in their world. In compliment to that goal is the intention to get students actively involved in college organizations and the greater Hampton Roads community. It has been fun to dialog with them throughout the process of creating this mural. They have a real sense of making change occur and how they can be an integral part of a community.
What is your guiding philosophy as an art educator?
Education (particularly in art) is a divergent thing. You must balance standards and rigor with freedom and experimentation. My general philosophy is that my job is to facilitate highly individualized learning experiences. A good educator should be a catalyst for meaningful development within student artists, but if doing it well the educator should become increasingly invisible as students progress.
Same question, except wearing your public artist hat. What philosophy guides you as an artist who creates outdoor work?
Public artwork is an interesting notion. As the title suggests it is artwork engaged in collaboration with others and displayed in a public environment. The audience and stakeholders become an integral influence on the work. This creates, for the artist, a divergence in that you must balance “public” input with private sensibilities. In general, my philosophy is to attempt to put an artwork in an environment that will add meaning to a place, and have some type impact on the people who inhabit the environment.
What is an example of public art in Hampton Roads that you think serves the craft and the public at a high level?
The new Hense mural on the Glass Wheel Studio is a very effective piece of public art. It is both a place maker and a challenging visual object. It inspires dialog about meaning, and has an aesthetic presence that elevates the environment. It is attractive, but I don’t think that everyone will necessarily “like” it because abstract painting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, it will serve to raise the level of discussion and appreciation as the public comes in contact with it. Also, beyond the physical existence of the painting, the artist documented the creative process very well with video and photography. This will extend the meaning of the work beyond just “art object” and into the realm of creative process. I think the creative process that artists such as Hense engage in are perfect little microcosms of the greater creative processes of life. With the actual process of creation available for those who might be interested, I think the potential of this work to educate–and more importantly inspire–people is terribly important.
How about on a national or global scale? What are your favorite all time pieces of public art, and why?
I think the story of the creation of the Vietnam Memorial by Maya Linn that is chronicled in the Oscar winning documentary “A Strong Clear Vision” is about as all encompassing as you could wish for in a public art story. She was an undergraduate college student (just like the Marlin Mural Team members) of Vietnamese heritage who came up with a highly conceptual and ultimately world changing design. The story of how the design was initially received with great protest, but has become a kind of “gold standard” over time, is very instructive. Having visited the memorial numerous times I am always struck by how powerful it is, and how impactful her design ideas turned out.
You teach, you have a family, and you regularly create your own work…. and you seem at least relatively sane. How do you keep this balance going?
Who… what? (lifts coffee cup and pours cold coffee past his mouth and down the front of his shirt). Ah yes… I have a very supportive wife and three kids who remind me how valuable and short life is. It never feels balanced though. I admire people that appear balanced …but I don’t trust them – it is surely a façade.
How does your practice as an artist shape your self-perception? How does creating change the way you see the world?
I think that staying purposefully engaged in the creative process helps keep you going, and helps you remember that there is a lot of curious stuff around. I think that maintaining a studio practice is a very important “center” for me. I watch the river, swim in the river, borrow from the river, feed into the river, and am ultimately part of the river. I guess making artwork is one way that I relate to the river of life.
Walk us through “Blue Sky” like you’re our gallery host. What are we seeing here? What should we be looking for?
“Blue Sky” is an image that combines illusionistic representations of cloud forms with geometric patterning that loosely relates to pixilation. Overall, the piece might speak to the way that our experience/understanding of the world is increasingly technologically mediated. It might even celebrate the ubiquitous digital onslaught that informs the way that the Millennial generation experiences the world. The fact that the piece was created as a collaborative endeavor that invited over a dozen students to make creative decisions in the execution of the work adds to the meaning. We live in a world of increased complexity that is defined by specializations and divisions. The process of creation, and aesthetic of this image, mimics that notion. This work might also be seen as an endeavor to reconcile different ways of seeing into a unified composition. The liberal arts curriculum at Virginia Wesleyan College asks students to learn about different academic disciplines, referred to as “frames of reference,” and consider how those different “frames” can be used and synthesized to formulate important ways to question and engage the world. “Blue Sky” is an attempt to create a small model of that very complex goal.
Very glad you are a part of the NEON Festival, as well as your students. What haven’t you mentioned in this article that they would want you to talk about?
For a community to function well it needs good educational resources, and for educational resources to flourish they need a good community to support them. It is very important to recognize the organizers of the NEON Festival as having facilitated this project and thereby provided an important venue for learning. The Marlin Mural Team hopes that we will complete the feedback loop and add meaningfully to the cultural community within which we reside.
For more of John, here is his website.