Barbara Rudlaff presents the culmination of her Summer Residency in her solo exhibit “Seen.” Featuring oil portraits of lesbians in her social circle, each portrait is 12”x12” and depicts the subject in a realist style against a white background, wearing a mask for health and safety in response to our current pandemic. They are spaced in the gallery at least six feet apart, commenting on distance while encouraging us to draw closer. This uniformity in presentation encourages the viewer to focus on those details that make each portrait unique, from an emphasis on the eyes to the subjects’ choice of mask design.
Representation is important, and so Rudlaff has chosen to depict only lesbians experiencing professional achievement, identifying each portrait by name and professional / job title. Accompanying the portraits are written statements from each person about their own experiences since the beginning of the pandemic. The writing is intensely personal – ranging in style from poetry to prose, and adds a dimension of familiarity that mask-wearing contradicts. By painting their faces and eyes in such detail, and sharing their stories in their own words, we feel we know them – we see them as they’re looking right back at us.
Combining a uniformity of presentation with personal stories and the direct gaze, the paintings engage us with each woman’s eyes and personal experience – conveying the imperative to see each other even when we wear masks.
About Barbara Rudlaff
Barbara Rudlaff is a representational painter and art instructor in Lafayette, Colorado. She has a Master’s Degree in Fine Art (Painting) from Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, Colorado and a painting BFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. She has owned her own portrait painting business for over ten years and has been a painting and drawing instructor both privately and for the Grumbacher Paint company for 6 years. She is the Chair of the Public Art Commission in Lafayette, Colorado, and regularly volunteers for art organizations and festivals as well as Boulder County LGBTQ organizations. Women’s Shelter and the Fort Collins Art Museum. She is represented by Spark Gallery in Denver, CO.
Director of Arts and Cultural Resources Department, City of Lafayette, CO
“It’s not too often in our lives that we have the opportunity to experience events that are universally life-changing. The kind that never really quite leave you, though they shift into the back of our minds. In my lifetime, the assassinations of Jack and Bobby, Dr. King. The first man on the moon. The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers. The elections of, joyously, Barrack Obama, and disastrously, Donald Trump. All of these events can be associated with a specific date and have had long lasting impacts and consequences.
COVID has the impact of being universally life-changing, but has no one date to point to as the beginning. For a while we thought we knew where it came from and when it started, but over time that question has proved unanswerable, or at least questionable. It is unknowable when we might be able to look back and say, “Oh, that was life in the times of COVID.” All that unknowing has me longing for a crystal ball, a longing to be able to plan, a longing to know if the people I love will be impacted, when I can plan arts programs for our community, and when I can see my ninety years old mom, who lives far away.
COVID has made space for a great deal of reflection on how I spend my time, what I want for my future in both the short and long term. What do I want to do before summer is over? Is there somewhere that feels safe for my partner and I to travel to? When can I see my granddaughter next? What conversations do I want to have with her? When do I want to retire and what do I need to do to be truly ready? What do I do with my frustration and pain about a system that allows a deadly serious, health crisis to be ignored and mocked? How do I use my power and my privilege to fight against political corruption, racism and discrimination? How do I nurture myself when things seem so difficult and sad? For now, I go again and again to the garden and feel the sun, listen to the water splashing on the rocks, and wait for the hummingbirds, reminding me that the nectar of the sweetest flowers is close at hand.”
Environmental Outreach Coordinator, City of Boulder, CO
When I learned I was about to be furloughed for ten weeks, my first thought was Artist’s Retreat! Time for writing, time for assemblage, time for deep reflection. Coupled with this was a particular freedom that came with the pandemic: permission to be an introvert. Gone were social expectations and fear of missing out on lectures, theater, art exhibits, and parties.
It would be so easy to retreat.
Except that people were dying everywhere.
Except that every decision to leave my house had to be weighed and deliberated.
Except that racist brutality marched on, egged on by the White-Supremacist-in-Chief.
Except that the anxiety of “Will I actually be rehired?” and “What happens to my pension?” pecked at my bare feet.
These days, I so regularly look at the world and think “dichotomy, dichotomy, dichotomy,” that dichotomy now sits on my shoulder, has built itself a fort there.
Joy and anger. Life and death. Solitary and community.
Technology and freedom from it.
And time and time and time.