MoBMA profile: tom ruple — painter
August 26, 2019
The summer rain has stopped and the temperatures have started to drop as evening approaches—much to my delight. While the cloudy, overcast skies cover me, I notice that I’m in a different area of my Hamilton Heights neighborhood. I’ve lived here for almost four years, so it’s a bit odd yet refreshing to feel alien in a place steeped in familiarity. A Latino man washes his car as I pass. We exchange a glance, smile, and mutually carry on with our days. It’s this simple act that reinforces the magic of this area—a sense of welcoming and community. I’m standing outside of a modest apartment and shoot my friend a text. “I’m here. Do I just buzz #2?” Immediately, I hear the buzzer signaling me inside. Just as I step inside, a door to my right opens and a tall man with perfectly-combed blonde hair appears in the opening. “Hey man,” he exclaims in a mellow tone that’s warm and genuine. Tom Ruple, dressed in an autumnal flannel, hugs me and gives his signature hearty chuckle as he notices the surprise on my face. Walking into his apartment, he extends his Southern hospitality and offers me a glass of wine while giving me a tour of the place. “I forgot you haven’t been here before. (Laughs) Drop your bag anywhere and I’ll show you around.” I take in my surroundings and instantly feel his calm vibe represented in the space—minimal with soft lighting and a couple stunning paintings of sunflowers on display. That’s what he does. Tom, the painter. Over the next hour and a half, we chat about Tom’s work, the roles of the artist and the spectator, and pull back the curtain on intimate, deeper truths.
MALCOM MOON: Let’s jump right into it and talk about how you discovered your passion for painting.
TOM RUPLE: That’s a hard question because it’s something that just keeps growing. My sister is artistic, so growing up, I watched a lot of what she was doing. Then as I started to do my own thing, I found my confidence and voice in it, which allowed me to communicate better. Art opened a big door for me because I really struggled with dyslexia growing up, and written communication wasn’t my strong suit.
MOON: In your artist statement, you state “the viewer is invited to witness the constant conversation between the artist and the work.” I’m a strong advocate for art as a means of communication. What is this dialogue about? Do you see the viewer as a voyeur into a more intimate or vulnerable side of your world?
RUPLE: We can get more into this, but most of my work so far has been autobiographical. Most of my pieces act as a meditation on my life. I definitely feel like my work is an invitation for people to see that side of my life. It’s freeing. Imagine me just sitting in a room, talking to myself and someone standing off to the side, listening in on that conversation—[it’s] pretty much the same thing. I definitely welcome critique and commentary on my work, but it’s more of a set standard for myself.
MOON: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
RUPLE: Most of my stuff is a deep reflection on my life; one can find a lot of answers when painting for thirty plus hours on one topic. In that frame though, I tend to explore topics like death, religion, and love mainly.
MOON: What do you feel is your strongest suit—that can be in terms of style, technique and the like?
RUPLE: I really love the conceptual aspects in my paintings and the symbolism that I use to convey those ideas. That being said, most of the symbols I use pertain to my own circumstances. So I need to be able to convey them in a way that still looks pleasing to a third party without having previous knowledge of every little intentional detail.
15″ x 42″ Oil on Canvas
MOON: I love the timeline format of your website. Not only does it show a linear progression of your work, but it immediately gives your audience a snapshot into the prevailing themes/moments in your life. There’s a series from 2018 in which you showcase the eight stages of grief. Can you briefly discuss art as therapy and how you were able to create during a period of loss?
RUPLE: I never thought about that [user experience on the website]. It’s kind of like a psychological experiment. Chuckles.
Art can allow a person in grief to physically face that situation and make something tangible. To add something to the world, to answer questions, to sit and think about it for a while; I think that’s important for someone in that situation.
MOON: As a New York transplant and South Carolina native, how has the move to the city impacted your perspective?
RUPLE: This city is such a great resource for visual artists. I do really struggle with comparing my work to that of the old masters in our museums but also to that of the more flamboyant work in the weekend Chelsea gallery walks. But positively, it has granted me so much opportunity to learn more about my heroes in art history. This city really has everything from Caravaggio to Wiley, along with other people just as eager to talk about them. Art is just simply ingrained in the veins of this city. It’s such a blessing to be here.
MOON: What’s your ideal work environment?
RUPLE: A French chateau with a disconnected studio on the property. Somewhere old, beautiful, and quiet. With enough room to do my work. Also, sunsets are a must.
MOON: As a singer-songwriter, I experience moments of writer’s block, doubt, and fear that my music isn’t good enough. I’m curious to know if there are any challenges you face as a visual artist.
RUPLE: I find there is a lot of doubt in my work. I compare myself or question my skill. I must constantly remind myself to be my truth and keep moving forward. A couple weeks ago, I was really discouraged in myself, and I brought this up to my past professor, Jo Pumphrey. She mentioned the North Carolina state motto: “to be rather than to seem.” It was a strong reminder that I am my own expert in my work and when in doubt—just paint. I’m a big proponent of manifesting your own destiny. You can’t wait for yourself to get through those blocks or doubts. You have to just keep working and let time do its thing.
MOON: I understand that it’s a huge deal to have your work displayed in an exhibit or published in print. Your work has been shown in exhibitions across North Carolina and now Brooklyn. Describe the importance and the excitement of exhibits and seeing viewers “talk” with your work.
RUPLE: It really is such an honor to have people support my vision. But I wouldn’t say it’s the most important part of the game. Just a great cherry on top. Plus, it makes my momma really happy so that’s reason enough to do it. I find interactions like this much more beneficial. Openings are great to see all the art in one setting, but I get distracted by the crowds of people. The artist can rarely talk to any one guest at length.
MOON: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
RUPLE: I would love to have received my MFA by then and keep learning as much as I can. I’m currently building up my portfolio [to be as good as it can be] to apply to schools. So, I should be done with the degree in five years time. After that is a bit more of a guess for me though. But that doesn’t worry me.
For more information on Tom and his pieces, please visit www.tomruple.com.
Follow Tom on Facebook and Instagram.
The featured image and thumbnail is entitled ‘Every blackening Church appalls.’ 24″ x 42″ Oil on panel.