Don’t tell his other paintings, but Sag Harbor artist Reynold Ruffins has a favorite. “It’s like asking which of your children you like the most,” he says, sitting among colorful canvases in his studio in Sag Harbor. “I do have a favorite, but I wouldn’t say which in front of the others!”
Ruffins’ work is a vibrant merging of shape and color, where the subject of the painting is less important than the impression one receives from it. “Almost none of my paintings have figures,” Ruffins explains. “Some are based on local things… Most of my work is acrylic on canvas or paper. I often use oil pastels over the acrylic. They give a different surface texture.”
Some of his work is clear in what it shows—a bouquet of flowers broken into sharp geometrics, or a summer picnic as if seen through a cracked lens. Some, like his Adam and Eve series, take a traditional narrative and reduce the story to its purest visual form. Others are more mysterious. It’s in his faceless works that Ruffins plays with the ideas he’s always loved in art.
“I’m interested more in shape than I am in design and content. Rather than using the painting to tell a story, my interest is using the shape and color to hold interest. It’s just the opposite of the first 50 years of my life as an illustrator, when telling a story was the first thing I considered.”
When asked if he would ever consider returning to his successful career in illustration, Ruffins laughs and responds, “No way! It scares the bejesus out of me! I don’t want to be guided by another person’s needs like that. I’ve been very fortunate in my life as an illustrator for the most part, doing work I enjoyed as well as satisfying the client… But being an artist is particularly satisfying now… [I like] the excitement of an idea and the challenge of pursuing it, and the highlighted appreciation of almost anything I see.”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, July 19 and 20, Ruffins and five others artists will display their work in an exhibit at Ashawagh Hall in Springs. Ruffins coordinated the exhibit to include many artists he has come to admire, including his own daughter, Lynn Ruffins Cave, who creates intricate beadworks.
“I think Lynn has enormous talent, especially as a designer,” Ruffins says. “She has a designer’s eye and a great eye for color… She loves beads. She has in her studio about a quadrillion beads. Once involved in a work she just keeps going. She works late into the night. And she does it for the pleasure, for the enjoyment of doing it.”
“As a matter of fact, originally I thought [the exhibit] might be just the two of us,” Ruffins explains. “But of course in a hall that size it wasn’t possible. I like Ashawagh Hall and I wanted to use the opportunity to do it on my own and with people who were worthy of having a show. Ashawagh Hall has a history. Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionists, not that our work reflects theirs, but it’s just a very comfortable viewing space. All of us have different approaches and styles but they won’t overlap or clash. They might even complement each other.”
Alongside Reynold Ruffins and Lynn Ruffins Cave, the Ashawagh Hall exhibit will feature the works of potter Beverly Granger as well as painters Nancy Brandon, Judith Henriques-Adams and Ann Tanksley.
The exhibit will be on display July 19 and 20 at Ashawagh Hall, 780 Springs Fireplace Road, in East Hampton. The reception will be held on Tuesday, July 19 at 5 p.m. The artists will be present to discuss their works.