Bill Rutherfoord’s large paintings are allegorical and satirical comments on American history (specifically Southern tradition) that intertwine literary narratives and cultural symbolism. Manifest Destiny will be the debut of six new paintings that subtly critique American colonialism in light of the current political climate.
Organized by the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, Virginia, and on view in the MSV from October 11, 2019 through January 12, 2020, this exhibition presents the culmination of eight years of concentrated labor producing a massive painting project by one of Southwestern Virginia’s most respected artists. Eleven large-scale, colorful and densely populated paintings invite the viewer into a complex interweaving of narrative, symbol, and form. Inspiration is drawn from artistic and literary figures as divergent as Jean Cocteau, Jasper Johns, and Joel Chandler Harris while historical references extend from Jamestown to Fort Sumter to the BP Gulf oil disaster. The reclaimed character Brer Rabbit leads the viewer on an epic journey across three centuries of heroism and trickery both comic and tragic ultimately creating historical and contemporary allegories and conundrums that lead to an investigation of the very nature of identity, culture and history, regional and national, high and low.
At the heart of the exhibition is an investigation of the splintering of long-held beliefs regarding country and culture, particularly the fragmentation of the art world once centered in New York and built around the influential New York School. Rutherfoord’s exploration of the often carefully manufactured and seemingly unrelated histories of Southern culture and modern art leads to what the artist describes as a “blowing up of the myth of regionalism” while contradicting “the model that separated artists into groupings of backward-glancing fiddling rustics and forward thinkers for whom a New York address conferred legitimacy.” For Rutherfoord the “ravages of unfettered capitalism on the country and culture have led to an increasing disconnect between the art market and the places and ways in which art is actually made.” Specifically in the work, Rutherfoord questions the “official histories” of art, nation, and region. His paintings highlight issues such as the environment and human exploitation to studies of personal identity while also depicting wide ranging, even international notions of regionalism, cultural reclamation, and artistic integrity.