July 20, 2014
One thousand four hundred, give or take a few.
Juror Brian Rutenberg looked at images of every painting, sculpture, drawing, photograph, print, ceramic submitted by 468 artists wanting to get into this year's Delta Exhibition, the annual prestigious show of regional art at the Arkansas Arts Center.
Sixty-five works made the final cut.
How did he do it without getting bleary-eyed staring at the computer?
South Carolina-born Rutenberg. 48, a painter known for abstracted landscapes, laughs. Sort of.
"I looked at about 100 images a day, give or take," he says. "It's exhausting. To keep my eyes fresh and to give every artist a fair shake, I spent time away from the computer in between groups of images."
The first look-see took just over two weeks.
What was Rutenberg looking for?
"The most soulful works of art, which have a strong footprint in a place, an idea … how did this artist tell me something about the world from a personal standpoint?"
As he studied the works, Rutenberg got an overall view and, working with pen and a yellow ledger, wrote down the numbers of what he considered the strongest images (artworks in juried competitions are identified by number, rather than artist and title).
"There were many run throughs to narrow it down. Then, after I reached 150, it became excruciating. I want ed to get as many as I could without crowding the show.
“I rely on my initial gut instinct," he says. "But it has to go beyond that. I look for a high-speed collision between the intellectual and the visceral; too much intellectual, it's academic and dry. Too much visceral without technique, it looks out of control. The pleasure of that experience is good knowledge. Balance, idea, depth of concept tells me a lot about what l think the artist sees."
Rutenberg "understands what makes artists tick, what they want to accomplish," says Todd Herman, executive director of the Arts Center. "He understands the big picture; he's not laser focused on what he does. He understands how diverse the artists are in their outlook, in the media they use and how diverse their influences are."
It wasn't until Rutenberg flew to Little Rock to make his award choices and help hang the show that he saw the art in person.
When he saw Little Rock artist David Bailin's Slippage that "high-speed collision" came over him again. liked it immediately as an image on the computer; when I saw it in person, wow. It was wonderful." Slippage won the show's top prize, the Grand Award.
"There is a heat in there, something he's desperately trying to express. There's a disorientation in the way he tilts the horizon, the desperate markings of color .. it kept me looking, it fit my visceral/ intellectual collision with the right balance."
Bailin's 78-inch-by-83 inch work is a nightmarish and chaotic suburban vision conveyed with charcoal, oil, pastel and coffee on paper.
Slippage marks Bailin's latest triumph at the Delta; he has won two other Grand Awards, along with several Delta Awards and honorable mentions.
Suburban Nightmare Wins Slippage Top Prize
David Bailin says he was "thrilled and dumbstruck" when he found out he had won the Grand Award at this year's Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center.
The unsettling suburban neighborhood depicted in David Bailin's Slippage may stir a sense of elusive recognition.
Trees tilt as one glows with yellow light, the sky is charged and furious vortex es surround a man's upper body. Is it confusion? Stress? Or is he drowning in some sort of psychic or cultural debris? "It's west Little Rock," Bailin says of the work's setting. "Things are familiar yet skewed. This fellow is falling, he's waking up to something, it's a disconnect." Slippage is the final image in Bailin's "Dreams and Disasters" series and the Grand Award winner at this year's Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center.
"It comes from an experience I have ... I do sketches and fall asleep, wake up and continue drawing. In the waking up, there is disjointed ness between the dream state and the real world. That's the feeling I wanted to get in this piece." Slippage wasn't easy to complete; there were several versions. "The harshness of the strokes in the work are intended to convey agitation," he says. "It reflects a threatening quality about society in general. In suburban neighborhoods you know but don't know the people who live there."
The work also conveys a sort of irony: People who fled: city they perceived as hellish for the heaven of the suburbs discover their place of refuge isn't as heavenly as they thought. That frustration erupts in Slippage.
There is a lot of agitation in the piece," Bailin says.