Jerry Ruthven does his best studio painting at night, leaving his mornings free to explore the back roads and sketch central Texas’ rolling hills, rocky creek beds and fading fence lines. One summer morning, he let me tag along. In spite of the heat, the morning passed quickly as this avid outdoorsman talked about his art and his outlook on life.
Hailing from Blue Branch, Texas – just plain Blue to those who live in the tiny community fifty miles northwest of Austin – Ruthven still fits the image of small-town Texas. His cowboy hat is not just for show and his walk is slightly bow-legged. Stubbornly clinging to his “last two bad habits,” Jerry drinks his coffee black and chews tobacco as he roams his favorite rural haunts.
A fifth-generation Texan, Ruthven describes his painting style as impressionistic realism. Basically self-taught, he was enthralled from an early age with the American landscape painters — Church, Moran, Bierstadt. Spring of ’98, he made a special trip to Tulsa to bask in the Moran exhibit at the Gilcrease. There he sat for hours in front of Moran’s large panels, simply absorbing, and being absorbed by, the great artist’s works.
Ruthven, like the Hudson River painters he admires, is inspired by pride in the beauty of his region. “Once upon a time,” he says regretfully, “these areas used to be free of human contact. Now, it’s hard to get away from the soda cans and the traffic noises.” Even so, Ruthven continues, as he has done for twenty five years, to “see” and paint the beauty of Central Texas. Masterfully, he captures on canvas the peaceful solitude and seasonal hues of the land which is so much a part of him.
Paralleling his love of unspoiled nature, Jerry has done several major commissions for ClayDesta Corporation’s Terrace I Office Park. Located on the environmentally sensitive banks of Barton Creek, the office park was planned to minimize the impact upon the heavily-wooded, sloping site. To carry the natural beauty of the landscape inside the limestone walls, the developer commissioned Ruthven to paint two large canvases which hang in the open expanse on the ground floor. Mounted between floor-to-ceiling windows, the breathtaking images complete the blend of aesthetic and function. Both paintings are signature Ruthven hill country scenes – Early Summer on the Sabinal and Autumn Reflections, Bull Creek.
Ruthven has always gravitated to water – creeks and rivers, and his eyes light up as he recalls an “epiphany” – the day he discovered how to create light on water. Our eyes, too, light up when standing in front of one of his spectacular stream or creek canvases. More so than any other Texas landscape painter, Jerry Ruthven draws us into his artistry: “I want my audience to hear the water splash, to feel the stream’s coolness . . . I want them involved in the beauty of the moment.”