A Conversation During the Pandemic with John Rufo

Pictured above: Late Summer Mood, oil on panel, 26x38"
 
Written by: Francesca Sinnott
 
Pictured: John Rufo
 
A conversation with painter and architect John Rufo reveals an artist who has taken time during the pandemic to reflect on the importance of nature and community and to express in words what excites him most about his art as he has been exploring abstract painting in addition to his representational work and has created some stunning and thought-provoking images entered in to Co|So’s Small Works. John is fascinated by “the intersection of planes of color, in nature” and how “at the ocean’s edge, one encounters that thin plane where the water and the land meet and overlap each other according to the way the tides change”. “Painting and delineating the subtle beauty of that moment when these forms collide and, how at times they can be opaque or transparent, has become my obsession”. John joined Co|So two years ago. He was drawn by the opportunity to exhibit his work to the Boston area through such an esteemed organization and values greatly the community of member artists. 
 
During the pandemic, John’s small architectural firm, emphasizing community building and placemaking, has remained busy, engaged with private, non-profit and public sector clients.  John describes how he happily has established a routine from his home studio he shares with wife Caroline, also a Co|So artist, allowing time for work, meditation and reflection. 
 
He has also enjoyed reconnecting with the land and the community of Needham where he lives. “From my childhood, I've always been in to hiking and bird watching with my family; but now I have been able to fully engage with the trails in our local town forest. I haven’t had more time to paint, but I’ve had time to commune with nature and reflect on the underlying thinking behind my work.  He shares some recent stunning and colorful landscape paintings including “Summer Meadow”, a place they walk to frequently. His painting, “Late Summer Mood” is in Co|So’s Summer Members Show: Summer Reflections.
 
Pictured: Forest Bathing, oil on panel, 12x16”
 
Pictured: Summer Meadow, oil on panel, 12x16”
 
John describes how he and Caroline have also taken advantage of this time together to “inventory” their work, “revamp” their website and write about “the ideas underlying” their art.
 
John paints in the studio on early weekend mornings, working from digital images he has previously captured and manipulated. He posts regularly on his art instagram: johnmrufo to keep a dialogue going with his followers. He tells me how much he values the representation he gets from local galleries, but cites the important role that social media has played in making “self curation” and “self representation” easier for all artists.
 
John’s passion and comfort with drawing has informed his painting. I’ve gotten to where I am in life because I loved to draw when I was young and that led me to architecture school, which led me to my wife and my family, and then to my architectural and art practices. In 1997, 8 years after graduating from RISD’s architecture school, where drawing was a critical foundation course, John began to work first with pastels then oil paint. He considers himself to be self -taught with some extra help from his artist wife Caroline. John describes how he would draw in to the paintings at the same time that he was painting, perhaps because he felt more comfortable with the pencil than the brush. “The underpinning of my art is the act of drawing, even though I may start with painting. I continue to work in this way today and I prefer to oil paint on panels because it allows me to draw in to the piece more easily than canvas. If you take a close look at my paintings, you will see some marks in graphite, charcoal or china marker. Sometimes if I’m not happy with the way a painting is going I will pick up a drawing implement and draw in to it to evolve the shapes and planes.”
 
John also enjoys drawing on paper in pencil, ink or graphite wash. “I don’t always have time to complete an oil painting, so I regularly sketch and those sketches inform my work”. John’s sketches reveal the hand of a master draftsman, comfortable with mark making on paper.
 
Pictured: Pointing West, graphite and ink on paper, 12x12"
 
Most recently, John has shifted into creating beautiful abstractions with his painting. He has explored more closely the essence of his landscape compositions, breaking the work down into the lines and planes evident when one examines the work more closely. For example, he finds himself observing “a repeated geometric pattern in the horizon line” or  “certain lines where water meets land or sky meets land”. Some angled lines “pull you in” while others “move away from the horizon”.  “I’m purposefully trying to look at these landscapes and the recurring forms and shapes and think of them as a language on to themselves without the representational piece as an obvious part of it”. John cites painter Richard Diebenkorn as someone who has influenced his work.
 
The resulting abstract images demonstrate how an artist can seamlessly transition from one style to another, and several are in the Co|So’s Small Works show. 
 
Pictured: Beach Abstraction 1, oil on panel, 8x8”
 
Pictured: Shoreline Abstraction 1, oil on panel, 16x20”
 
During this past year,  “I have become more conscious than ever of the importance of connecting with people through my art and my architectural design”.  John’s advice to artists, “young or old” is: “don’t be intimidated to show your work and use the Internet to do it especially if you are not yet in a gallery”. Understand that, “showing your work is an important way of connecting with the community”.