Sag Harbor painter Reynold Ruffins‘ colorful work is back on view at the John Jermain Memorial Library (201 Main Street) in Sag Harbor through May 31. A special opening reception with the artist is scheduled this Saturday, May 12 from 2:30–4:30 p.m.
Ruffins career as a fine artist came following years as a top-tier illustrator and designer. And his accolades are many. He is a graduate of New York’s most prestigious art school, The Cooper Union, where he earned its highest honor, The Augustus St. Gaudens Award for outstanding professional achievement in arts, as well as The Cooper Union Presidential Citation for his work and prominence in his profession.
Now in his late eighties, the artist says he sees this new exhibition as something of a “last hurrah,” noting, “There aren’t many opportunities to show as much stuff as I have in this show.”
RELATED PHOTO GALLERY: Reynold Ruffins Retrospective at John Jermain
The works on view span about 15 years of his painting career, which began some two decades ago, after he slowed down on illustration commissions. “There are a lot of pieces in this show,” Ruffins says.
He was a founding member of the famed Push Pin Studio, which he started in 1954 with Milton Glaser, Edward Sorel and Seymour Chwast, before launching his own award-winning design studio with Simms Taback in 1963. For more than 30 years, he and Taback created work for blue-chip clients such as IBM, AT&T, Coca-Cola, CBS, Pfizer, The New York Times, Scribners, Random House, Time Life, Fortune, Gourmet Magazine and the U.S. Post Office.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his history as one of the great illustrators, Ruffins’ drawings and acrylic paintings pull away from the narrative and instead focus on shape and color to hold the viewer’s interest. Yet the works on display at JJML hold on to vestiges of recognizable forms and fields of light and dark, bringing the suggestion of, for example, a vase of flowers or a face to the fore.
“The kind of freedom that I have as a painter comes because I’m working only for myself,” he explains, pointing out that he’s no longer trying to execute someone else’s vision. “It’s only for the pleasure of design, color and line,” Ruffins says. “I can do things so differently and so much more freely.”
As he continues to evolve as an abstract painter, and his work moves farther afield from the representational, Ruffins says he has no interest in returning to illustration. And, really, where else could he go in that field?
Starting in 1969, he illustrated more than 15 children’s books, four of them with writer Jane Sarnoff—The Chess Book (1973), The Monster Riddle Book (1975), The Code & Cipher Book (1975), Space (1978)—and his own My Brother Never Feeds the Cat (1979). Ruffins was honored with the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Award in 1997 for Running the Road to ABC (1996), written by Denize Lauture.
In 1991, Ruffins even tried his hand at film. He teamed with Whoopie Goldberg and jazz legend Herbie Hancock to produce Koi and the Kola Nuts, a much-lauded video for children and part of Rabbit Ears Productions’ We All Have Tales series.
He is still a Professor Emeritus at Queens College CUNY, and has taught at the School of Visual Arts and The Parsons-New School of Design, and was a Visiting Adjunct Professor at Syracuse University.
Ruffins’ work has also been featured in acclaimed trade and design publications, including 200 Years of American Illustration, A History of Graphic Design, The Push Pin Graphic, African American Art, Graphis and How Magazine.
Along with his shows locally, Ruffins’ work has been displayed in internationally recognized group exhibitions in Milan, Bologna, Tokyo and the Louvre museum in Paris, France.
See Reynold Ruffins at John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor through May 31. Call 631-725-0049 or visit johnjermain.org.