Joe Rudko: “Picturesque” at PDX Contemporary Art

by richard speer


“Chromatic Gradient,” 2014, Joe Rudko
Shredded photographs on paper, 30″ x 22″
Photo: courtesy PDX Contemporary Art

With a fugal sense of complexity and invention, Joe Rudko fastidiously tears, cuts, and shreds found paper and found photographs, as well as original photographs, then puts them back together in elegant, visually witty new compositions. The Seattle-based artist, a 2013 graduate of Western Washington University’s BFA program, made a strong Portland gallery debut with a suite of these immaculate, often illusionistic, pieces, all from 2014, collectively entitled “Picturesque.” One of the methods Rudko employs to recontextualize images is to connect disjointed fragments by drawing imagined contours between them. Riffing on a partial image toward the bottom of the composition Pinnacle, he deploys colored pencil to draft a striped, ribbon-like motif that seems to fold over itself in an “X”-shape. The piece’s cool Bavarian blue tones heighten its serenely self-contained minimalism. Coastline continues this conceit, interpolating the colors of a photographic excerpt until they appear to morph into a bold, brown-and-white “Z”, while Object Drawing (Sectional) ingeniously connects three images of wallpaper into the suggestion of an eccentrically designed armchair, protruding into the viewer’s personal space via isometric perspective. Chromatic Gradient amalgamates hundreds of photographic tatters into finely graded miasmas of color, mimicking the sweeps and swells of gestural abstraction.

Other subsets within Rudko’s oeuvre toy with connotations of representation and the form. The twelve shreds that comprise Collection are arranged as the outer edges of an incomplete rectangle. One element hints of a blue sky, another of a mountain, another of a lake, yet another of vintage erotica. As viewers, we become co-authors with the artist of a new image, one we create in our minds as a collage of subjective memories and projections. Works in this vein lend an expressionistic tinge to a body of work that feels otherwise quite formalist, like an artist-cum-mad scientist’s variations on a theme. There is an agreeable perversity in the obsessiveness of Rudko’s modus operandi, as if, having put his visual precepts through 119 days of Sodom, he is now gleefully planning the 120th iteration. His virtuosity suggests a prodigious pictorial imagination that bodes well for this promising emerging artist.