The Rush heads home

Rush Whitacre

Next week, I’m going to visit Brooklyn one more time to help Rush Whitacre load up his pickup and head back to his home and studio in Ohio. He’s had his fill of New York City. I’ve gotten to know Rush well since we met last summer. He offered the use of his truck to Viridian Artists, where I show my work, when the gallery moved to its new location on 28th St. in Chelsea. He had me laughing that first day, and he’s kept me laughing every time we’ve met since then. I’ve described him before: tall, massive, with blondish-brown hair and a cropped beard. He wouldn’t have looked out of place sitting next to Joe Namath in a lounge somewhere back in the 70s. Yet Rush doesn’t pretend to convey that kind of cool: he’s a guileless hugger, who brings out the nicest qualities in the other people around him, always trying to make someone else a little happier while he’s around. (Often, this involves the consumption of beer, though not always.) In a way, his entire approach to life is anti-Cool. He’s extremely intelligent, and yet he doesn’t impose any of it on anyone else. Just before his move to Brooklyn, he finished his Ph.D. in fine arts at the University of Cincinnati and, as I’ve pointed out before, he has a total of five college degrees, including ones in biology and bio-chem. He’d rather come across as the happy, enthusiastic midwestern country boy who listens to Taylor Swift and paints huge sunflowers without a whiff of postmodern irony.

I’m disappointed that Rush is leaving, but I don’t think he came to the city in order to break into the art scene. He seemed to be using his year to absorb as much art as he could and return with a large inventory of memories and photographs for teaching back in Ohio. On my last visit I let him use my Nikon D40, and we plowed through most of the galleries at the Metropolitan, where he shot nearly 300 images for use as teaching aids if he gets the job he hopes he’ll land for the fall back home. He has allowed me to crash at his place in Brooklyn when I come visit the city, and his fellow tenants tolerated me—I can be a bull in a china shop, in the way I lumber around and in the way I express my views. The arrangement worked well in two respects: I’ve saved money on hotels, but in the late-night/early morning conversations I’ve learned a lot about these younger artists just out of school, and it’s been humbling. The energy and purpose they invest in their work puts my own efforts, when I was their age, into humbling perspective. I’ve learned a lot about my own motivations as an artist, in defending my reactions to art with them, and I’ve gotten closer to what I value most in art. Yet in my observations of how Rush and Lauren Purje, his fellow tenant, create art, I’ve really enlarged my definition of good art. They’ve been teaching me in the way they do their work and in what they’ve told me about it. It’s a continuing education, and really I have Rush to thank for that. He welcomed me into his life and his apartment, for as long as I wanted, whenever I was in the city.

Rush is incredibly ambitious. He has amazing creative reserves. He has been writing poems, letters, and a fantasy novel, on his cell phone—sending them to himself and copying me in on them—during his breaks and his slow periods as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum. Without the outlet of that writing, I’m not sure he could have maintained his composure: his task at the Metropolitan has mostly been to say two things. Don’t touch. And, the ever-popular, often-requested:The toilet is around that corner, to the right. He joked about how he doesn’t take any of his writing, other than his novels, all that seriously, but his work has improved over the past year. The size of his keypad, compared to the size of his thumbs, means you have to wade through a sea of typos in order to grasp what he’s saying, but it’s often rewarding. Some of his poems—minus a couple words and a couple lines—are solid, and these little gems pop up among a stream of five or six poems all written in a single day. He laughs at how little I write, the guy who’s a professional at this, and I fire back names like Salinger and Harper Lee, in self-defense, and say “it’s a matter of quality or quantity, buddy.” But I know that’s a dodge. He’s putting in his ten thousand hours of apprenticeship early, as a writer and a painter, and it’ll be something to keep an eye on when he really hits his stride.

Ultimately, Rush found the city too confining and too crowded. He needs more green in his life and way more space. But I think, most of all, the apartment he has been sharing made it impossible for him to work on the large scale he loves. He has an enormous space on his family’s land in Ohio. Maybe he’ll get back to paintings that require the ladder on wheels he built to paint some of his earlier work. He may also return to his installations, where his skills in construction have enabled him to “sculpt” room-size interpretations of the physical world: an ocean wave made out of desks and chairs is one of my favorites. I know our friendship and correspondence will continue, because I want to write more about Rush and what happens as a result of this move back home, but also because I need more exposure to his heedless confidence in his own creative energy. He gets an idea and simply executes it without second-guessing himself, without hesitating or doubting—just gets it done and immediately moves on to the next project. I tend to noodle over something until I’ve worked it to death. For months he sent me installments of a fantasy novel, which was a kind of poetic and nightmarish interpretation of his tenure in New York City, and on the day after he sent me the final page, he emailed the first chapter of a new novel about his experiences as an art student at Ohio University. He didn’t even give himself a day off between books.


2 Responses to “The Rush heads home”

  1. It was worth every one of the 825 miles at represent

    […] distance to drive for a two-hour event, about 850 miles there and back, but I stayed the night at Rush Whitacre’s studio in Beverly to divide the distance, and that turned out to be half the fun. I pressed apple […]

  2. It was worth every one of the 825 miles » Art Matters!

    […] distance to drive for a two-hour event, about 825 miles there and back, but I stayed the night at Rush Whitacre’s studio in Beverly to divide the distance, and that turned out to be half the fun. I pressed apple […]