WITH A SMILE
Thomas B. Harrison
Arts and Entertainment Editor
The Mobile Register
first glance the room seems cluttered with wildly disparate
the detritus of western culture: ceramic pencils, mirrors,
floppy disks, dollar bills, musical notes, hamburgers, coffee
are mounted on hand-coiled springs mounted on distinctive
stands in a counter-clockwise spriral moving outward from
Steinway that rests in the middle of the gallery.
space is energized, alive with form, color and humor, and
to compel a visitor to circumnavigate the display-- in one
Academe" is the work of W. Steve Rucker, a New Orleans-based
ceramic artist whose one-man exhibition opened Saturday at
Gallery on the lovely campus of Spring Hill College. The opening
reception featured enhanced lighting and a performance by
Sanford Hinderlie, Rucker's faculty colleague at Loyola University.
work will remain on view through Feb. 1, and Rucker will give
slide show and walk-through at 7 p.m. Jan. 23.
studio sits near the Mississippi River in the Carrollton
neighborhood of New Orleans. His Spring Hill installation
showcase event for the Eichold and gallery director Wanda
coincidentally, Rucker will judge the 11th annual "Art
Southern Drawl" juried competition in April at the University
tall, bearded child of the 1960s, Rucker mentions the work
Oldenburg, who defied tradition as well as the abstract expressionists
and became synonymous with Pop Art. Like Oldenburg, who became
for his giant food sculptures, Rucker believes in creating
"environments" in unlikely or non-traditional settings.
1981, he has taught ceramics, painting and drawing at Loyola
University and is acclaimed for his mixed-media installations
site-specific works that blend a rapier-like wit with first-rate
"Concerto Academe," Rucker took an idea from Sullivan,
who gave him
the floor plans for the Eichold Gallery. Rucker noted the
presence of a
piano, which inspired him to create the installation as a
vortex with the Steinway in the eye.
created the ceramic bases, coiled the springs himself -- half
on Christmas Eve, the rest the day after Christmas. The ceramics
packed and loaded into Rucker's pickup and a U-Haul trailer.
artwork filled both vehicles.
was assisted by his fiancee, Tracy Smoak, and former student,
Austin V. His lighting technician was Heather Stickney of
said his work is rooted in abstract expressionism and the
South, yet it also deals with "planes of intellectual
much is evident in the 75 arrangements that dominate the room
more evident when one pauses to studey the individual components.
shards of mirror represent the triad of higher education:
science, art and philosophy; a cross symbolizes Christianity,
Yin-Yang symbol represents Eastern philosophy.
there is music. The black-and-white motif is an immediate
allusion to the keys of a piano; angular musical notes resemble
describes himself as a "country boy from Tennessee,"
but there is
much more than aw-shucks whimsy going on here. Yes, the work
and amusing -- the coiled springs suggest Spring Hill -- and
sprialing vortex of the installation certainly refers to a
of the hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Those odd-looking
the floor are "smart pills."
he also plays with words in imaginative ways, especially if
misses the worded messages the first couple of times around
This is Rucker's peculiar take on the state of education in
usual symbols are in evidence -- pizza, computers, textbooks
a new generation of college students has a language and habiliments
sort of playfully addressing what we have come to and calling
the way I see it," the artist said. "I even have
to have a cell-phone
policy in my syllabi; turn 'em off in a lecture class. If
it rings, it
better damn well be an emergency."
his beginning students, Rucker hands a list of things to make
dealing with your digits, this opposing thumb that made us
finally capable of having car keys," he said. (Hands)
really are the
only tools you need. I use very few tools. . . .I just love
something, rather quickly and spontaneously."
recalls the origins of his aesthetic credo. As a student at
Middle Tennessee State University in the '70s, he became interested
transcendental meditation and vegetarianism. Each morning,
and pinched a three-quarter-pound lump of clay into a bowl.
10 bowls a day and never intended them to be functional. He
with hundreds of bowls.
professors were skeptical. "If you're gonna do this clay,
get more technical," they said. "You gotta learn
more about kilns,
firing, the science of clay, the science of glazes."
technical, technical. Rucker said he "never had too much
trouble with inspiration -- the ideas were always there."
He was an
avid journal keeper and always kept his notebooks handy.
those little pich-pots became a way for me to focus on one
ceramic approach that originated in 16th -century Japan, called
he said. "but I wanted simply to go through the motions
of firing all
those pieces and then do something with it, which led me to
in sculptural arrangements somewhere on the campus and just
to see what would happen."
course, after a day or two the fraternities usually couldn't
it," he said. "They rearranged them, broke them
or stole them -- no
disrespect to the Greek system."
it became kind of fun to bring art 'out of the gallery.' I
began working X number hours a week on multiples or. . . placing
at a specific site outdoors, in a barn or somewhere, and hopefully
getting a friend or somebody to come see them."
vernacular response to Rucker's art is: "What the hell
is it?" But
his art elicits another kind of response too.
Rucker neared completion of the Eichold installation, sculptor
Favier dropped by with his children. Favier's 11 - year -
Hannah reached into her school backpack, pulled out her camera
on a ledge. She waved her dad out of the way and began snapping
is great!" she said.
didn't need an explanation," said Rucker, beaming. "I
in her eyes and immediately it made sense to her. Now, that's
as it gets."