October 2018 Artist Interview
Philadelphia artist Andre Rubin (b. 1976) makes philosophically and politically engaged collage artworks – images that are concise, bold, colorful and delineated in the tradition of pop art, political posters and advertisements. His historically informed work positions Classical art and architecture into a Postmodern context. Rubin makes very large collages with large elements printed on etching paper which are blown up from smaller collages using found images. He holds philosophy degrees from Harvard and Columbia.
At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become an artist? Did the realization emerge slowly?
I am a second generation artist. My mother, Fiammetta Rubin, came from Italy to America to study art (among other things) in the 1950s. She has had a long career working in all artistic media: painting, ceramics, printmaking, large scale enamels, drawing, and digital photography. She showed in galleries in Philadelphia and NYC in the 70s and 80s. Sol LeWitt was a distant relative and his work interests me a great deal.
I made lots of art as a child and teenager, going to various art camps and later the Cheltenham Art Center outside of Philadelphia. I still have many examples of my childhood art. Some examples are on my Instagram account, @culueg. One can see my eventual artistic style even in that early work: an emphasis on symbol and referent and a love of bilateral symmetry.
I ended up studying philosophy at Harvard and wanted to pursue a career in academia. I remember my thesis advisor, Professor Alison Simmons, telling me that I should only do philosophy if it’s the only thing I could see myself doing. Ironically, this caveat applied to me as an artist – not as a philosopher. I later learned in graduate school at Columbia that I didn’t have the drive or talent in that field to become successful. However, my background and interest in philosophy and critical theory heavily inform my work.
It was only in 2010 that I started making artwork again. Eventually I had a large enough body of work such that in the fall of 2014, I started promoting my work and showing in exhibitions.
Although I’m not showing with a big gallery yet, I’ve had an easy time getting into exhibitions. This is partly because my work is content driven and explores seminal themes. If I made abstract work with no referent, I think it would be a lot harder to get into exhibitions. It cuts both ways, though. Because abstract art has limited content and message, it can’t offend and can be decorative. In that sense, abstract art is the true heir of the bourgeois artistic tradition starting in Holland in the 17th Century with still life, landscape, domestic scenes, culminating in impressionism, cubism, and eventually abstract expressionism. I see this tradition as an aberration in art history rather than the norm. It wants to be ahistorical – which, of course, is impossible. Because so much work in this tradition in not about anything, it can easily be sold as the decorative commodity bauble the art market favors.
How did you evolve your style and favorite mediums?
As I mentioned above, my style and technique emerged in the most natural way. I make work for my own pleasure first and foremost. I cannot imagine what it would be like to create an artistic style out of nowhere or to borrow one from someone else. All this strikes me as very premeditated and inauthentic. “Style is the man himself.” As a collector and curator of all sorts of things, I am instinctively drawn to using found images and assemblage.
What are your time management techniques? Do you have regular working hours...or favorite times to work?
My practice involves three distinct activities: Gathering materials, putting together images into a coherent formal collage and, finally, trimming images and creating a finished piece mounted on paper. To make a large scale piece, I photograph the elements, have them blown up and printed on etching paper and then create a large collage using teva glue. I am also experimenting with mounting collage elements, small and large, on canvas.
Do you work on more than one piece at a time, or primarily just on one?
I work on many works at once.
What would you say is your biggest influence -- that which keeps you working, regardless of all else, your most steadfast motivation?
This sounds like two questions to me. I don’t have any one influence – my influence is my history and the history of art. What keeps me going is the pleasure of making new works and creating enduring value in the world. Art is a primary way in which the past continues to exist in the present.
Does trying something new and not knowing the rules -- the boundary pushing -- create anxiety or excitement in you? (Or both?)
Originality of content and medium is very important to me – especially because I work with found images. At the same time, I believe that the value of an artist’s oeuvre is connected to a time and place – that is, a tradition.
Do you enjoy having the "duality of both chaos and control" or are you happiest with a set plan?
I don’t make work with a plan. I don’t know what I will do until I am already doing it. I don’t take commissions. At the same time, I return to certain ideas and themes over and over again: Accelerationism, Wormholes, the Far Future and Distant Past, Climate Change and Disaster, New York City, Social Justice, Hegel’s Owl of Minerva Who Flies Only at Dusk, Classical sculpture and architecture, Object Oriented Ontology, the Eternal Return, Perspectivism.
Do you have any projects or events forthcoming?
This interview coincides with my second solo show at the Amos Eno Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Oct. 5 to 28, opening reception, Oct. 5. Right across the street from the Morgan stop on the L train.
I want to conclude by saying - and this is a very Hegelian - an artwork is more real than reality itself because it involves the mind taking in the world and (re)producing a distillation of what is important and beautiful about it. While the physical universe has had and will have an existence far beyond our time and place, meaning is only created by conscious life forms and their inter-subjective communications and judgments. We are ‘meaning machines’ and without us the universe is just a bunch of dead facts – matter and light. How we feel about the world is more important than what it is. Even the framing of a mere snapshot belies the lifeworld of its framer.
Screenshot of Iphone of collage printed on etching paper
40 inches by 24 inches
Collage of found photos
14 inches by 11 inches
Antiquities from Leptis Magna
14 inches by 11 inches