Adrianne Rubenstein

I learned to paint in Nova Scotia in the early aughts at an art school known for its Cal
Arts-inspired conceptual program, which had been dwindling in relevance since the 1970s. There, I met Gerald Ferguson, an artist who had left New York to pursue painting as a pure form. He had a studio by the shipping docks among blue-collar workers, and painted using stencils and materials from the hardware store. In class, he taught us through emulation of the masters; Cezanne, Tom Thomson, Manet and Hartley were sources he approved of. Once, I recreated a Modigliani called ‘The Jewess’ and Ferguson allowed it, with the implicit understanding that I was being bratty and facetious by indulging (among other things) my personal history.
Ferguson set up a paradigm for reverence among chosen signifiers. He taught us to
extrapolate meaning from basics. His conceptual leaning made a huge impression on me as I learned how to apply paint in a colorful landscape-y manner. Leaves changing color, bodies of water, and close-ups of the forest floor are subjects I return to in different forms. I cherish the beauty and values embodied by scenes of nature, how a landscape magnified becomes a still life, a personal collection.
I am influenced by Laura Owens’ early works, which were based on embroidery from the Arts & Crafts movement, Ree Morton’s painting and sculpture, Lee Lozano, Joan Brown, and the Japanese Neo-Dadaist sculptor Tetsumi Kudo. These artists deal with love and relationships, notions of health, family and care that test the limits of normalcy while appealing to mainstream devices. My family’s business was in fruit and vegetable distribution, which colored our whole dynamic. I paint broccoli most
frequently, as it is my favorite and dearest subject. I hope to express that it’s a symbol
of nutrition, something your caring elder would encourage you to eat, although it is also a flower. There is nostalgia here, but I also feel that broccoli is reflective of present-day
tendencies: aren’t we obsessed with juicing and yoga the way past generations indulged in music and drugs? Broccoli is a monochrome with voided stems that have been detached from its trunk. It is a commodified unit whose shape, form and function are predicted by its commercial value and transience. It’s a simple thing, a cabbage, a
stinky food, but it’s also the currency of life.
Above all I wish to establish a feminist perspective. I do this in my work as a gallery
director and independent curator in addition to my studio practice. Ten years after I
graduated from NSCAD, my job as the Director of CANADA (odd as it seems) includes acting as the representative for the estate of Gerald Ferguson. His final body of work, landscape paintings done from memory with a 6” roller and black enamel paint, has affected the direction of my own recent paintings, the memory part if not the utility of them. I muse about how art education and painting came to this country and to
Canada as an activity for women to practice at finishing school, which was the reason the institutions where I studied were founded.
It’s never a bad idea to go back to that time and think about perverting it. Like Hillary said this week at the DNC, we are planting seeds for a future generation. It is very much within our power to ameliorate our future situation. If it’s possible to express this through a painting practice, that is my greatest wish.