Craig Rubadoux Interview by Pamela Beck

Craig Rubadoux has participated in over seventy exhibitions. Solo exhibitions have included the Ringling Museum of Art, the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, the Lowe Museum of Art, and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. His art is included in many public and private collections including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale; the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; and the State of Florida. He is currently represented by Dabbert Gallery in Sarasota, Florida.

ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.

Craig Rubadoux has participated in over seventy exhibitions.  Solo exhibitions have included the Ringling Museum of Art, the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art, the Lowe Museum of Art, and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum.  His art is included in many public and private collections including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the High Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale; the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida; and the State of Florida. He is currently represented by Dabbert Gallery in Sarasota, Florida.

In the mid-twentieth century there was an active group of artists and illustrators including Craig Rubadoux, Ben Stahl and Syd Solomon among others, who lived and worked in Sarasota. They garnered both local and national attention and furthered Sarasota’s reputation as a thriving art community.

Craig Rubadoux still lives in this area and also has a seasonal studio in Nova Scotia. His home here is hidden away at the end of a dirt road. It’s nestled in the trees overlooking a bay. Inside, the walls are completely covered with art made by himself, his friends and other artists he admires. Fascinating books, adorable pets and music fill the house. His studio, surrounded by private land and fronted by the bay, is a huge screen porch that opens to the breeze on three sides.

In this setting, Pamela Beck talked with Craig Rubadoux about his early Sarasota days and what’s on his mind today.

Photo of Syd Solomon teaching art at The Ringling. Craig Rubadoux back row, third one from left
Photo of Syd Solomon teaching art at The Ringling. Craig Rubadoux back row, third one from left

 

PB: What was Sarasota like when you first moved here?

CR: I came to Sarasota in 1945 with my family, when I was seven or eight. Only 45,000 people lived here then. I joined the Sarasota Art association (now Art Center Sarasota) on Palm Avenue. They let me have a one-person show in their storefront when I was twelve.

At that time in Sarasota, there were Beaux Art balls and dances, but I didn’t go to things like that. When I was around thirteen, I took an art class that Syd Solomon taught at the Ringling Museum. I still remember how I spilled a bottle of india ink on the outside loggia floor at the museum during one of his classes. The stain stayed there for years until it came out. I liked watching it fade.

The Ringling School of Art, as Ringling College of Art and Design was formerly called, was only two or three buildings. There was a greater sense of camaraderie between everyone back then there is now. Activities and people from The Ringling School, The Ringling Museum and the Sarasota Art Association all were actively involved with each other.

I took a lot of high school art classes. My art teacher, Mrs. Clements, thought I was promising and took me to meet Ben Stahl at Hilton Leech’s studio. I was a senior in high school and Stahl asked me to be his apprentice. I thought I might be an illustrator like he was, so I could help support my family. But when I saw the hoops you had to jump through—well, let’s just say that I don’t like people telling me what to do or how to paint.

Apres Rodin, 2011, oil on canvas, 40" x 48"
Apres Rodin, 2011, oil on canvas, 40″ x 48″

Then I got a scholarship to Ringling for one year through the Scholastic Art Award. I enjoyed the life classes the best. They had those figure drawing classes three times a week. There was a nice group of teachers at the school, but I couldn’t afford tuition to finish studying there.

When Stahl and his family were getting ready to travel abroad, I was asked to go along as his children’s tutor (although I didn’t do any tutoring…).  We drove through Holland, France and Spain, stopping at museums. We saw a lot of great paintings and it was the first time I saw the Louvre and the Prado. When I saw the Goya paintings at the Prado, they knocked my socks off.

We went to Torremolinos on Mackinlay Kantor’s (the writer) suggestion. Ben Stahl completed his “14 Stations of the Cross” paintings and then he and his family left. I stayed and rented a room. Everything was cheap there. I put out a sign that said ‘Art Gallery,’ on the building where I lived, and had an opening in an unused upstairs space there. The landlady was sympathetic.

I stayed there about eight more months, teaching watercolor and designs for pottery to make money. You didn’t need much money to live. I got another room in the building and had an opening there every Sunday because it was very touristy and new people came to see my work every week. Hotels were just starting to be built.

I painted the fishermen who slept on the beach and the people who traveled by donkey.  At night, I went to the local cafes and had a cognac and sketched the flamenco dancers.

PB: Looking around your house filled with art from many cultures, there’s hardly an empty spot on the walls. What influences are important to you?

CR: Besides much of the art I’ve seen in museums and friends’ work, I also like masks, outsider art and primitive art. I have a lot from Mexico, Africa, New Guinea and Costa Rica and some local Florida work too.  It resonates with me and so I’m overrun with stuff that you see all around my home. I find this kind of art inspirational.

PB: What do you think of the current climate for visual arts in our community?

CR: I don’t get out that much although recently I went to St. Pete. I saw “Post Coital,” a show at Mindy Solomon Gallery I liked, and also the Philip Pearlstein show at the Museum of Fine Arts. But I find that I just have enough time to do my stuff and do my thing. I don’t know what’s happening in places like New York either, and I’m not sure if it would help or hinder my work if I did. But I do get together with painter friends of mine occasionally.

PB: Lately, you’re doing abstract rather than figurative work. Any particular reason?

CR:  I just suddenly felt drawn to explore abstraction again. I’d worked with abstraction in the 80’s. I might go back to figurative.  For now I like working on something I don’t have the answers to; I like the excitement that comes from not knowing how things will turn out.

PB: What’s your first memory of being a painter, even if you didn’t know you were one- as a child?

CG: I always drew, ever since I was a young child. My mother saved drawings of mine from when I was five yrs old. They were from my school class when we lived in Rochester, N.Y. before moving down here.  I remember one—it was of people on horseback seen from a window.

My mother and grandmother both drew and were very supportive of my interest in art. There were those “Learn How to Draw” Walter Foster books all around my house and when my family decided to move, they purposely picked Sarasota because it was known as an arts colony. They thought it would be good for me.

PB: Describe the feeling that makes you want to pick up a brush.

CR: It’s innate; I just have to do it, I have to make some marks in some manner. At this stage in my life, it’s a compulsion. I need to do it, but I like to know that at least one or two people respond to what I do.

PB: What are you thinking about as you paint?

CR: Depends on the mood I’m in or sometimes it’s something trying to get out, it has to get out. They’re not intellectual thoughts I’m having, but rather, how I’m feeling or what I’m experiencing in my life or with the animals or a walk along the beach or river. I think it’s like a diary.

Some of these thoughts could become something I will work on. Or not. It doesn’t matter; I just start sketching. I keep sketchbooks. For example, here’s a sketch I did that got me thinking about the painting next to it.

 

 

Rubadoux's notebook with sketch resulting in "Aurora" (Notebook is oriented correctly)
Rubadoux’s notebook with sketch resulting in “Aurora” (Notebook is oriented correctly)

 

PB: Which artists locally and abroad, dead/alive resonate with you?

Aurora, 2013, oil on canvas, 54" x 72"
Aurora, 2013, oil on canvas, 54″ x 72″

CR: Of people I personally knew, the painter Frank Rampolla was the biggest influence on me. People thought he was my teacher but we were really friends.  After I returned from Spain I took some life classes at Ringling School of Art, where I met Frank. He had a place in Sarasota where we could work. So we hired models and often drew and painted together. Then we would regularly discuss our work and for about ten years, even showed at the same gallery in Coral Gables, the Sindelir gallery. We helped put together a show in that gallery, “The 7 Deadly Sins.”

Eventually he went to USF/Tampa and taught printmaking there.  In fact, he got me a job at USF for a semester or two, but working in that setting wasn’t for me. Sadly, Frank had a heart problem and died at 40 in Tampa.

I like the work of my friends, the people I hang out with like Beatrice del Perrugia, Robert Baxter, Richard Mueller, Joyce Ely Walker, R.O. Woody—I really like so many artists; the list is endless. Of artists I’ve never met, here are some off the top of my head: Paul Klee, Willem de Kooning, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pieter Bruegel (“Hunters in the Snow” in particular), Edgar Degas, Toulouse Lautrec, Odilon Redon, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Hokusai, Balthus, Egon Schiele. I just thrill when I look at the work of these artists. Standing in front of a Botticelli, you almost want to cry.

PB: Your art clearly resonates with a Michigan collector, whom I’ve heard has purchased many pieces from you. Could you please talk about that?

CR: They’re a couple that has bought 160 works from me. They are in the process of publishing a book about me based on their personal collection, which should come out within the next year.

PB: You’re a shy person. How does this quality affect your work?

CR: It gives me more time to paint because I don’t go out to see many people. I have good friends but I enjoy spending a lot of time alone. I find that I can often express through painting what I find difficult to say.

PB: Please give an example of a work you find satisfying and discuss why.

Finn, 2012, oil on canvas, 24" x 24"
Finn, 2012, oil on canvas, 24″ x 24″

CR:  “Finn.”  It sings. I can’t go beyond that. Every stroke seems to fit and help the other one along. Music and dance do that too, when they work. I listen to classical music when I’m painting.

This past year I’ve gone to and enjoyed Momix, the Itzhak Perlman concerts and the opera.

PB: Do you have a conflict between living in world of creative ideas/feelings and living in the practical world?   How do you straddle it?

CR: My kids say not very well. I’d like to approach life the way my high school art teacher told us to: never hurry, never worry, never procrastinate. That’s a good maxim, so I’m trying to live by it more and more. Thing is, I’m having trouble with the ‘never procrastinate’ part.


Pamela Beck
Pamela Beck

Pamela co-owned Pannonia Galleries in NYC. There she was also an art appraiser, private art dealer, art fair exhibitor and catalogued paintings at Sotheby’s. Perhaps it’s not surprising that she is also a psychotherapist. She has a keen interest in the arts and supporting Sarasota’s future as a lively, diverse and forward thinking city for young and old.Pamela is a member of The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Curatorial & Acquisitions Committee & Acquisitions Committee and Institute for the Ages Volunteer.

Sarasota has an art history, how about a future?

The likes of Sawyer, Farnsworth, Hartman and Solomon put Sarasota on the art world map, and both art makers and art lovers have been colonizing here ever since. The Sarasota County Arts Council has reported a data base of 3,000 people who define themselves as artists and live and work in Sarasota today.

by Joan Altabe

In the beginning… Soldiers returning from WWII came to town to make art their life. One of those soldiers was Syd Solomon, whose legs were frostbitten during the Battle of the Bulge. He was told to live in a warm climate and came to Sarasota on the first day of 1946. Solomon stayed on into old age to become an internationally recognized painter known for his abstract renditions of the area’s light and land. “When I landed in Sarasota, it was the high point of my life,” he told me in an interview in 1988.

Solomon knew at once that the town was for him because its art scene was already active and well-known. And throughout the years, artists have been drawn to Sarasota for its natural beauty and for the attention paid to art making.

Syd Solomon Dabbert Gallery
"Joust" by Syd Solomon 1951– Gouache (Dabbert Gallery, Sarasota)

You might say our art history began in 1931, when art lover John Ringling, whose circus wintered in Sarasota, founded his museum, along with the School of Fine and Applied Arts of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art – known today as the Ringling School of Art and Design. Staffed by 15 faculty members, the school attracted landscape and marine painters from the North.

But even before Ringling’s school began to draw World War II veterans intent on studying art under the G.I. Bill of Rights, the Farnsworth School of Art opened in Sarasota in 1941, attracting students from the United States and Canada and from as far away as the Dutch East Indies.

The Farnsworth School was founded by the husband and wife team of Helen Sawyer and Jerry Farnsworth, two New York City artists with established reputations.

Helen Sawyer Dabbert Gallery
"Soriee" by Helen Sawyer – Oil on Board (Dabbert Gallery, Sarasota)

Sawyer’s New York exhibit credits included the Whitney Museum of American Art, which acquired her work. Many of her paintings have been reprinted for greeting cards by the American Artists Group. Farnsworth’s work also is in the collections of the Whitney, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His portrait paintings – 23 of which were reprinted for Fortune Magazine and 10 for Time Magazine – included likenesses of three presidents: Truman, Roosevelt and Harding.

The couple opened their school in a leaky, made-over cleaning and pressing shop, later they moved it over a garage and then into the original post office in the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. Students flocked to the school, and over the next 30 years, more than 5,000 came – ultimately to a location on Higel Avenue on Siesta Key. By 1970, classes had to be limited to about 35 students with tuition costs beginning at $60 for a two-week period.

Farnsworth students were so serious about their work, Sawyer told the Herald-Tribune in 1970, “If anyone would ever hum or whistle while they worked, they would be hissed.” Many of these students liked Sarasota so much, they made it their home, and in the process, made the town’s reputation as an art center.

Jerry Farnsworth Dabbert Gallery
"Pony Tail" by Jerry Farnsworth – Oil on Canvas (Dabbert Gallery, Sarasota)

One of these was the late William Hartman, the first artist in his home state of Michigan hired under the Federal WPA Program of the Arts. He came to Sarasota in 1946 to study art under the G.I. Bill at the Farnsworth School, the Ringling School and the Hilton Leech Studio, begun by noted landscape watercolorist and teacher for which the school was named.

Leech, a nationally known artist and long-time member of the celebrated American Watercolor Society, came to Sarasota in 1931 and helped organize Ringling’s school. His own school thrives to this day as Friends of the Arts and Sciences.

“Many good artists were already in Sarasota, then,” Hartman told the Herald-Tribune in 1986. He met his future wife, Martha, when both were art students at the Ringling School; they opened their own gallery and school in Sarasota in 1952.

Hilton Leech Dabbert Gallery
"Hidden Lake" by Hilton Leech– Watercolor & Mixed Media (Lee Corbino Galleries, Sarasota)

The couple was so popular that a Herald-Tribune article in the `50s commented: “If there were an election to select royalty in the Sarasota art field, it is safe to say that most people would vote for Sawyer-Farnsworth.”

Speaking about why they chose Sarasota in which to live and work, Sawyer has said, because, “Here we find congenial friends, indoor activities in the fields of music, art, theater; outdoor activities; sailing, fishing, swimming. And such a variety of subject-matter for painting! The swamps and forests of the back country for landscapes and the shores and waters of the Gulf; tropical fruits, flowers, vegetables and sea things, as well as fisher-folk and circus folk. So here we find the spice and substance of the good life.”

The good life in Sarasota inspired paintings that earned Sawyer raves from noted critics. Ernest W. Watson, early editor of American Artist magazine, wrote of Sawyer’s depictions of Siesta Key beaches in 1949: “Always she paints to express a mood rather than to record a particular scene – the threat and fury of seas and sky rather than a particular place in time of storm.” Elizabeth Luther Cary, writing for The New York Times at the time, compared Sawyer’s thunderclouds to Francisco Goya’s and found the 19th-century Spanish master’s wanting. Lauding Sawyer’s skies, she said, “We may think of Goya’s carnival scenes under stormy skies, but I cannot recall any by Goya in which the battle of the two extremes plays such a passionate part.”

Always, though, the good life for Sawyer included teaching, she said. “Teaching never became hum-drum. I fed my students my eyes, my heart. They all swallowed them whole and did the most marvelous things.”
Inspiration for local artists also came from the presence of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which wintered in Sarasota.

Ringling Poster
Circus Poster

“One of the great things we used to do was put on a circus art show. Only circus subjects. It was great,” said Solomon, who studied with the Farnsworths, in a newspaper article. “Jurors invariably included someone from the circus – one of the great performers or one of the great entrepreneurs like Buddy North. It was a very important theme show, and perfectly natural for Sarasota.”

The likes of Sawyer, Farnsworth, Hartman and Solomon put Sarasota on the art world map, and both art makers and art lovers have been colonizing here ever since. The Sarasota County Arts Council has reported a data base of 3,000 people who define themselves as artists and live and work in Sarasota today.

Yet, something is missing. We boast the birth of an arts community. The question is, have we grown? With all the boutique-y galleries, tourist art and match-the-slipcover decorator stuff, not to mention Sarasota signal monument on our bay front – the monstrous “Unconditional Surrender” – it feels as if fine art has moved to another town.


Joan Altabe

Former visual arts critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Bradenton Herald, former New York City art teacher and longtime award-winning art and architecture critic for U.S. and overseas publications, is referenced in “Who’s Who in American Art” and “Who’s Who of American Women” and currently writes as the St. Petersburg art Examiner and National art Examiner. Altabe has written several books including “Art Behind the Scenes” (100 painters in and out of their studio) and “Sculpture off the Pedestal” (25 sculptors in and out of their studio). Both available at Amazon.com.