the ground by Roger Green
Steve Rucker's colorful installations are humorous commentaries
on diverse social maladies, reminiscent of works by Claes Oldenburg
- an acknowledged model - but informed sensibilities peculiar
to the rural South. Typically, Rucker's installations consist
of vertically oriented wood or ceramic elements, arrayed in
parallel lines and suggesting growing crops. Littering the ground
beneath the vertical elements are whimsical ceramic sculptures,
describes by the artist as "debris."
Rucker's installations are continuations of and reactions against
Abstract Expressionism, the first modem movement he discovered
as an undergraduate art student at Middle Tennessee State University
in the early 1970's. Today, Rucker extends the all-over texture
of Abstract Expressionist splatters and drips to environmental
proportions. About his works' links to Abstract Expressionism
he says, "Somewhere along the line ít clicked that all-overness
might just as well happen on the ground."
Actually, earth artists such as Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim
and Walter de Maria (especially his "Lightning Field") also
inspired Rucker, as did remembered boyhood experiences on neightbors'farms.
Often, when mowing lawns or fields of hay, Rucker freely "drew"
on their surfaces, rather than moving the mower or tractor in
Rucker's reaction against Abstract Expressionism shows in his
copious use of imagery and narrative content, both developed
out of memories of Tennessee farm life and adult concerns about
social and economic ills. He also substituted for the anonymous,
numbered titles used by Abstract Expressionists worded titles
that manipulate language playfully. His games with language,
like his habit of writing and taping guitar songs to complement
installations, owe to the culture of his adopted state, Louisiana.
Song lyrics by Clifton Chenier, Dr. John, Walter "Wolfman" Washington,
and other Louisiana musicians stimulated the play with words
that today characterizes and adds remarkable charm to Rucker's
art. One installation, "Post-Modern Pharming", deals the inefficiency
of over-the-counter pain remedies and the harrowing plight of
farmers who have lost their land (both subjects relate to sickness,
including economic sickness, the artist explains). Another installation,
"Barber Crop Quartet," equates the country ritual of monthly
haircuts with harvesting crops.
Not surprisingly, the vertical elements in "Barber Crop Quartet"
are wooden poles painted with red-and-white stripes; littering
the ground beneath the poles is "debris" in the form of outsized
ceramic scissors, combs, razors and pieces of bubble gum. By
contrast, the vertical components of "Post-Modern Pharming"
and another installation, "Barbwire Maladies," combine glazed
ceramic and metal parts.
In both works, steel rods rising from ceramic bases support
ceramic sculptures that bring to mind clever animated cartoons.
In the first work the sculptures are of hypodermic needles,
thermometers, two-toned capsules, cotton swabs, bandages and
dollar bills. In the second work, the sculptures portray metamorphoses
- a birds tail becoming a banjo's neck, a screw sprouting a
leaf - occasioned by toxic chemicals. Both works also include
Rucker's installations have meaning on many levels, amusing
viewers while also challenging them to confront social inequities.
As expressions of urgent concern about the fate of the world,
couched in disarmingly playful, yet always accessible autobiographical
terms, Rucker's installations are unsurpassed.