New York

Randal Rupert


Randal Rupert is one of the few artists delving into the relationship of image and idea, structure and sensation, who is notoverwhelmed by either the magnitude of the issues or the difficulty of the content involved. Since the late ’70s, Rupert has been developing an original, boldly suggestive brand of representational painting which penetrates on the deepest level the distinctive way that urban people see today. Rupert’s paintings are active, indeed confrontational pictures which demand attention. The means used is a unique fast-time presentation which instantly changes form into information, seeing into association. To achieve this, Rupert has reinvented the diptych and radicalized the device of the multiple-layer composition. His methods are strikingly displayed in this selection of oil paintings from 1981 and 1983.

All the paintings are diptychs of two horizontal, rectangular panels of equal size, hung one above the other, about two inches apart. The format moves the eye from one panel to another in much the same way that a magazine does; instead of “reading” from left to right, though, the main direction here is from top to bottom. And like a magazine, which shows a split where the pages meet at the center, Rupert’s format offers a two-inch break, pointing up the process by which the viewer makes connections between the two panels. The break actually accelerates the paintings delivery of their content.

In White Light, 1981, the two panels look unrelated at first glance. The upper panel contains a spray of green leaves against a black ground; a pair of white diagonal lines shooting out from the same point pass above and through the leaves. Against a dark blue ground, the lower panel shows a blue-and-white masklike head with primitive features next to a closed white linear configuration. The eye, going from panel to panel, connects the white lines in each section and perceives the broken form of a sailboat. Both as image and idea, the sailboat motif serves as a visual/conceptual trigger that dynamizes the symbolic values of the painting, pulling together the two panels formally and thematically. With its disjunctive broken sail, the sailboat appears adrift in an ambience of mystery, enveloped in an atmosphere of deep sensual beauty at once natural and supernatural (the connotations of the leaves and mask). Is the subject of White Light a voyage of self-discovery from the outer to a mysterious inner world?

Sentient aspects are further intensified in the group of paintings from 1983. In several examples, a multiple-band disc is the visual/conceptual trigger that activates the emotive content. In Walking with Water, 1983, the top panel shows the white outline of a peak, next to which is the figure of a woman carrying a heavy basket. Her feet are cropped off, and the small scale of the figure suggests she is far away from us. She walks into the colored bands that serve as the ground, her back to the viewer. In the lower panel another linear configuration in white is recognizable as a sailboat, with the top of the sail completed by the peak shape above. Another female figure carrying a basket appears against the colored bands, but where the upper figure recedes from the viewer, this one walks in the opposite direction, out of the bands toward the viewer. Looking from top to bottom reveals the bands as part of a disc, with its associations of the LP, a convenient storehouse of information in contemporary culture; the disc is also a universal symbol for cosmic energy. Animated with streaks of yellow, the black-and-gray surfaces of the disc suggest a state of whirling motion, spinning out visual data—the sailboat and the female figures. Who are these women? Peasants, perhaps, on a journey through an imaginary zone of time and space. Why? The startling qualities of the imagery, products of the strong graphic impact of the compositional and coloristic contrasts, make you dig deep into yourself for the answer.

Ronny Cohen