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Gothic Man in an Atomic Age

By Henry Schwarz

THE Dunbarton Gallery is a renovated basement, found beneath another art gallery on Newbury Street near Copley Square. Currently showing there is a two-man exhibition featuring the paintings of Robert Rutman and Jack Wickline. Mr. Rutman has four canvases on display, while Mr. Wickline has seven. But Mr. Rutman paints much larger than Mr. Wickline, so everyone is even.

A cursory glance around the walls reveals that Mr. Rutman has developed what can only be termed a very personal style. His first work, which is larger than any of us, is entitled "Strange Suns." Roughly speaking, "Strange Suns" is laid out like a five of spades. A metallic gold disc, about the size of a basketball, is painted in the center. Similarly, four more discs, three orange and one blue, are painted in the four corners. Silver-black oils cover the rest of the surface, stroked on radially with respect to the individual circles, applied to a thickness in direct ratio with its proximity to the circles. The general appearance is, therefore that of five craters of paint. The title, Mr. Rutman explains soberly, came after the work was completed.

The second canvas, labeled "The Three Spirits," consists, again, of basketballs, of the appropriate number, variously blue, orange, and gold, in the background of lava. Mr. Rutman's style has begun to catch the eye.

The third painting, which was titled before it was painted, is called "Calvary." A work of religious significance, it depicts three glowing gold crosses mounted on two tall brown planes, all encompassed in some sort of brownish-black color. And the last work, on a wall by itself, is a single lavender disc, lying in an exploding crater of gold. This is titled, in Mr. Rutman's simple taste, "Purple Host."

The artist is apparently very found of black. The color creeps into every corner of his canvases. Even as we entered the gallery Mr. Robert Rutman was seen painting a sign, in black letters on a black background, saying "Open."

Mr. Rutman, wearing a purple sweatshirt, blue denims, a three-day beard, and a pair of black leather shoes with gold buckles, explained in detail his personal painting, his philosophy of painting, his life history since about 1950, his academic background and his views on museums, and his feelings about Boston. And in case he forgot anything, his wife was there with the baby to tell us more.

Rutman's explanation for the "motif" of his paintings is that this is something to provide that consistency of style which critics have found wanting in his previous work. Although he titles his works after he paints them, they are not abstracts; rather they are all - and despite his own titles - "pieces of sky."

It seems he can't be serious, but he is.

Art should be beautiful, he says. Art is a personal thing, he says as we expected him to say; you have to feel it. It has to move walls. Art has to be decorative. That leaves Picasso out. And besides, Picasso has all the loot. He should disperse his money to struggling young artists. Give his all for art. Museums are dead. And they are closed most of the time. They waste their "dough" on restorations. Why should anything be restored? The artist is helpless - "a Gothic man in the Atomic Age." The art academy is an evil institution. Boston is a terrible place, full of academic critics.

"I can paint a beautiful red blotch and show it to an adult and a kid. The adult will say so what; but the kid, without any preconceptions, will recognize it as a beautiful red blotch. Now that's my kind of art."

This was the general course of the conversation with Mr. Rutman.

Here is a man with a gallery showing in Boston who does not know what art is. If he is painting pure abstracts, he can't validly title them with anything more than numbers. If he is an impressionist of any sort, he should have some idea of what he is painting before it is painted and out drying behind the barn. Knocking art academies is folly. Mr. Rutman has never been to one. How he can fail to see the inherent value of formal art training and criticism is inconceivable. Mr. Rutman's actual complaint is that the museums refuse to replace their restored masterpieces with his red blotches.

Whatever his complaint, it doesn't matter. The point is only that Mr. Rutman, along with the man who runs the gallery, is not an artist. Worse than that, people are theoretically going in and paying money for his blobs and craters. Mr. Wickline's artform, which is paint splashed on layers and levels of sand, burlap, and reindeer moss, offers no solution. The titles of his displayed works are "Entourage," "Into Night," "Still Night," "Quiet Harbor," "Impending," "Dusk, Autumn," and "Dawn Spring," all captured by odd strips and lumps of color in black backgrounds.

Why do such galleries exist? Why don't they hold puppet shows instead.

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