Orie Rush’s show in the Book Loft Gallery opened two weeks ago to a crowd of friends, family, and total strangers. It is Rush’s first solo show, though you wouldn’t know by the huge group gathered in the loft of my bookstore. For a solid two hours, Rush is pinned behind a table on which his sketchbooks and prints sit, entertaining one admirer after another.
The show consists of twenty-plus drawings, paintings, pieces of digital art, and piles of prints plus a selection of Rush’s sketchbooks. For those of us not well-versed in the techniques of visual art, it was difficult to distinguish one style from another save by the title cards. Micron, digital, watercolor, acrylic: all stand together in the delicate precision of their execution as well as the question they pose to the viewer — can you tell my story?
Though the subject matter varies wildly — sleek samurais and geisha, art deco-like figure studies, whimsical critters in watercolor — the thread that remains consistent is that of wonder. By wonder, I mean the power to create questions and curiosity, to create stories in the viewers’ minds. A triumvirate of wizened heads, a hand like a firecracker, a startled creature — part potted plant, part octopus…one cannot help but insert their own stories and create their own worlds. From gritty to dreamy and rough to flawlessly clean, these works demonstrate the fecund, twisty wilderness of Rush’s imagination.
There is one digital piece that my friend and I have all figured out. We recognize the man in the image, leaping from one mirror to another, which he breaks with his bare feet. It’s called, The Day I Lost My Favorite Hat, and my friend and I shout, “It’s Jeff! That’s Jeff in his hat! Was that your hat, first?! Did he take it?!”
Rush smiles sideways, “I guess that does sort of look like him, but…”
And we continue, “It’s totally Jeff!”
Rush, trapped behind the huge folding table, is at the mercy of the crowd. He watches helplessly as all his prints and sketchbooks are flipped through, pored over, examined, compared and contrasted, while he is not just peppered, but overly salted with questions, and probably hot sauced with compliments. As a writer, the thought of strangers reading through rough drafts and abandoned stories is simply a nightmare, but Rush takes it in stride, answering questions with an occasional nip of smoky mezcal.
Rush’s smile breaks a few times to show a somewhat overwhelmed artist. It is not an unwelcome expression for me. This is perhaps the best attended first solo show we’ve held at the bookstore, and we’ve had many first solo shows. What a non-artist such as myself can do to help others, is create a space that is small, friendly, and yet still formal enough that an artist can occupy it fully and confidently. We are not in New York City, and I would hate for anyone to be confused on that point.
I use the name New York City somewhat unfairly, as a catchall for the affectation and airs we country mice assume comes with art shows in a Big City. My point is that in Mansfield, Ohio, we put on no such pretension. We have a plate of cookies, a jug of wine, and the artist himself pinned on a thrift store couch, vulnerable to every question and commentary. We have a room full of people who hold Rush in high esteem, are there to see him, not just to be seen. They want to understand his work and know the stories. The new visitors, too, are comfortable, spraying complements like cookie crumbs, enraptured by Rush’s sketchbooks, and engrossed in pods of conversation. In this respect, Rush’s first solo show is a resounding success.
Before the night is up, six pieces have sold off the wall. One will be going home with me. Sweet Dreams is a digital piece and I created a story around it before I knew what I was doing. It is the lines around his eyes that tell it to me. The bottles that swing about his head like a dangerous wind chime are only part of the story. Though I have gotten what I wanted, I am still jealous of whomever purchased Poor Power Supply and Octobush.
When the last visitor has exited, Rush looks around at his show, satisfied, exhausted, and hungry. A small crowd of us goes to get a beer and food, and the energy vibrates off us all. Together we have created something new: with this first show of Rush’s oeuvre, we’ve birthed an egg of possibility, a shiny future of shows yet to come.
The Book Loft Gallery at Main Street Books
Tues-Fri: 11am-6pm; Sat: 10am-6pm
Rush’s show will be up through March 17th