Season 5 - Episode 522
From stark renderings of the Texas desert to soaring mountain scenes and more, Winter Rusiloski brings landscapes to life on canvas. Rusiloski serves as associate professor of painting in Baylor’s Department of Art and Art History, and is an award-winning professional painter. In this Baylor Connections, she discusses the scenes that compel her to paint and examines the meaning of teaching the art to students.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today, we are visiting with Winter Rusiloski. Winter Rusiloski is professional painter, who serves as associate professor of painting in Baylor's department of art and art history. An award-winning gallery painter, she's exhibited nationally, internationally, and is in numerous public and private collections throughout the United States for the focus on abstract landscapes. She joined the Baylor faculty in 2016, and you've maintained what sounds like a pretty busy and active schedule at galleries, working with your students, painting, and more, and I'm excited to visit with you on that today. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Winter Rusiloski:Oh, thanks so much for having me. I'm happy to be here.
Derek Smith:Well, excited to look into your work, because I mentioned to you before we got started, this is an area we maybe haven't talked about as much on the program. So we'll get to dive into a new world here as we talk about painting. And you've said in the past, just to sort of start off, you feel an urgent need to paint and feel like it is the one thing that you were meant to do. So what is it about painting, what aspects about painting, make that statement so real to you?
Winter Rusiloski:Well, I guess to go back a little bit to explain this, I actually began as a young child with an interest in dance, and more than an interest in that, I actually got a degree and undergrad degree in dance along with painting. So while I was growing up, dance was really my focus, and although I was also making art and painting as young as I think when I was around six, I had a great aunt, my great aunt Thelma who called herself more of a Sunday painter, but I would paint with aunt Thelma, and I really was taught by her the same way I teach my students today, in that she would set up a still life. We would work from life. We would mix our colors. We would look at landscapes she had visited. She was very well-traveled, have gone to Europe and all up and down the east coast. And so I was painting with her at an early age, but again, dance was always my emphasis. I was taking lessons, and then I went to college and actually picked out school based on dance. But then as I was walking through the hallways and I looked in the painting studio, I just felt that I needed to do that. And although I loved dance, especially choreography, in the end, I felt that, for me, painting was just my language, and I felt that even though there were other interests I had, that painting was what I was just best at and most natural with, and I couldn't imagine not painting. It's like how I talk.
Derek Smith:So for you, it wasn't the only thing that interested you, but it's definitely what rose to the top among what sounds like some good options that you were trying. Yeah.
Winter Rusiloski:Right. Right. And I think the dance part was really very, very important. And my father is a retired mechanical engineer. So from an early age, he was teaching me to draw because back then, initially, his drawings were by hand. I remember looking at giant handmade drawings. Eventually, he was using AutoCAD in the computer. But I would draw a barn that I could see across the road, and he would correct me and say, "That perspective is not correct." So when I was in elementary school, I was getting accurate drawing instruction from my dad and I was painting with my aunt, but it was just kind of what I was doing, and I was really pursuing dance. But in the end, the painting ended up being what I really felt I needed to do. It was just so important to me, and I felt like, yeah, again, that was my language, and that's what I was put here to do.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, I gave a very brief description of your work at the top of the show, saying that you focus on abstract landscape. How would you describe that, and what it was that really inspired you to focus on the directions that you focus?
Winter Rusiloski:Well, so again, it connects back to my childhood in that I grew up in Pennsylvania, and I was in a rural area in Pennsylvania and was painting primarily landscapes even back then, whether it was the kind of local scenery, or the Huntsville Dam was a place that was really beautiful. And then we would often visit the shore, and I would want to paint the beach and scenery. And again, back to my aunt, she was showing me the impressionists. She painted in a more impressionistic style. So again, when I was in elementary school, I remember pouring over books of Monet, in particular, along with all the impressionists. And luckily, I mean, I was able to visit the Met when I was growing up, and MoMA. Where I lived in Pennsylvania wasn't too far away from New York City, so I was fortunate to be visiting art museums in Philadelphia and New York City as I was growing up even before college. So the landscape was a subject that I was very familiar with. And then when I finally got into college and was actually painting at college, I then dropped that and switched to a direction of pure abstraction, which was fantastic. I was really excited to make that jump when I realized I didn't have to paint something that was representational. But then the landscape came back, and since then, I've really been trying to hit a balance where I was able to merge both, both of my interests of the pure paint in abstraction and all the things abstraction has to offer, but at the same time, including references to landscape and getting kind of right in the middle of something representational and something abstract.
Derek Smith:You mentioned the scenery in Pennsylvania, talking of, beforehand, you visited national parks. What kind of landscapes grab you now? What are the ones that you think, oh, I would love to go there and paint this?
Winter Rusiloski:Well, so I've made this really kind of slow transition of initially the landscapes of Pennsylvania were my subject. And then in college, I took a trip out to the boundary waters of Northern Minnesota, and that was really the point where I kind of switched back to landscape and wanting to include that. It was that beautiful horizon line, the openness, the reflection of the sky in the water. And then from there, I ended up in... And I traveled and studied abroad in Italy and in Budapest, but eventually landed in Texas for graduate school. And the big open spaces in Texas, I really loved, the sky and the horizon again. And in the last, I guess it would be about six years now, I've been traveling out to the Big Bend region, and to the point where my husband, who's an artist, and I, we've bought more than 50 acres out in the desert, in the off-grid area. And of course, to me, it's sort of a nod to Georgia O'Keeffe who had her landscape. And we found this really unique otherworldly landscape out there that's both beautiful and punishing and harsh. And what I find to really be intrigued by in the end are these kind of sublime landscapes that are so beautiful, but also powerful and terrifying in a way. And in the last six years, in particular, being here at Baylor, I've been so fortunate to have numerous grants to travel and research, and I've gotten into a conversation of juxtaposing the different landscapes of kind of returning to the Texas Southwest. But for example, I traveled out to Glacier National Park. I tried to think of, well, what's something very opposite? And so I went out to Glacier National Park and looked at that landscape, which was green and flowers and snow and glaciers, but at the same time, it was this sublime, often scary, kind of space. So Big Bend is sort what I imagine will be a continued focus along with these conversations, juxtaposing with different areas.
Derek Smith:We are talking with Winter Rusiloski, associate professor of painting at Baylor. And when you're looking at a landscape, whether it's at Big Bend or Glacier or wherever, this is kind of a open-ended question, what are you trying to capture fully on the canvas? And what to you, when you look at the painting when it's done, makes you feel like you've really captured what it is you want to?
Winter Rusiloski:Well, those are two pretty tricky questions. One thing I'll... And I promise I will come back to it, but sort of in that direction, which I think gets at your question of these landscapes-
Derek Smith:Help us see it through your eyes. Yeah.
Winter Rusiloski:So, right now, I'm actually about to start a commission, which I don't do many commissions, but this one is particularly intriguing because I always visit the landscapes myself. So that's part of it, is that I go there, and I exist in it. I hike in it. I paint out in the sun with the wind blowing. I suffer in these landscapes. Even my husband and I were out there when I was pregnant. I have a three-year-old now, but I was pregnant out videotaping and used drones to get footage of the area so that I can be thinking of multiple perspectives simultaneously and really feeling the space. So I'm taking on this commission that's particularly intriguing, where someone is going to visit K2 mountain, which is right there with Everest. It's just a little bit, actually not quite as tall, but it's often thought of being more difficult because it's more difficult access to get there, and I think it's a 12-day hike just to get into the base.
Winter Rusiloski:So anyhow, I'm not going myself, but the collector, who I'm working on this commission for, he is going. He's not climbing it, but he's going out to see it. So to answer your question, here's a unique example of, I'm not going to be there myself, but I'm dialoguing with him. He's going to write about it. He's going to tell me about it. He's going to take photos. So for me, it's trying to get as much of that experience as possible. So back to the paintings, what I hope is that rather than me painting the landscape that's more of a study of just this is what it looks like, I'm trying to get to those intangible things. And often, my paintings really aren't just based on one landscape either. It's this synthesis over time of what the horizon is, how the horizon can change, and maybe part of it looks like the desert, and maybe part of it looks like the water. So it's this idea of painting something that's both the moment and multiple memories kind of simultaneously and getting to those intangible feelings of beauty and often even terror, like how you feel when we see a beautiful big storm coming, or the feeling of night falling.
Derek Smith:How have you, Winter, honed your skills and your approach over the years to what it is now? I mean, obviously practice and doing the work, but what does it take for you now as you teach, as you display your art in galleries, et cetera? How have you honed that over the years?
Winter Rusiloski:Well, I'm really a huge advocate of the idea of practice. And often, coming back to the dance, I make the comparison that it's the same as in dance ballet going to the bar and doing your pliés and doing your bar exercise, and that in painting and in art, I often feel that there's this idea that, oh, there's some gift that just comes down and you're born with this talent, and I don't believe that at all. I think it's all practice. It's practice and making work and making work and looking. You need to be practicing your skills, but at the same time, you're also looking to art history. You're looking at what's happened before. As much as possible, you're viewing what's going on in the museums now, what are artists doing. So comparing it to other disciplines, you're creating new research. You're creating a new voice. You're saying something a different way, another perspective. And in order for it to be truly as new as can be or original or valuable as a unique voice, you need to have as much knowledge as possible of the history and currently what's going on. So I think that's something that maybe not everyone who isn't familiar with the processes is aware that that's a real key element, is the research, the research of studying the areas, going to the area, understanding the geography, the location, feeling it, and then at the same time, studying art history and contemporary art.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Winter Rusiloski, associate professor of painting in Baylor's department of art and art history and a professional painter. And you mentioned research, which when I ask in transition a little bit to your scholarly work here at Baylor, at teaching. You teach at what's now a research one university. What led you to teaching initially, not just to paint professionally, but also to teach?
Winter Rusiloski:Well, in my undergrad experience at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, which is not always a real well-known school outside of the area. It was actually very well-known for art, very close to New York City. But anyhow, I had a very important professor there, George Sorels, a painter, and he was the first example for me of how I could give back through teaching, getting to continue painting, but having conversations, continuing to learn myself, and being there for students. He was monumentally influential to me at that point. And he may have been also part of my reason from sort of transitioning that focus from dance into painting, because he was just a fantastic, inspiring human and professor. To this day, I'm still in touch with him and so thankful for him, but he was just incredibly inspiring, and I felt that I never would've done so many things without his encouragement and support from saying, "Go to Italy. Study abroad, and you should go to graduate school." And I said, "Well, how do I do that?" And he told me, and I did it. And then he was there in the conversations, helping me apply for and decide where to go next, and he led me to Jim Woodson, who was a wonderful professor I had in graduate school. And anyhow, they were both such examples, and I got so much from them, along with other professors I had in both grad and undergrad. So it really made me want to give back and help support other young people, young, aspiring artists, and have the conversations with them, because the art courses are such a fantastic place for discussion, to give support, to talk about important topics. And I'm just so honored and blessed that I can be here after all the fantastic professors I had, and I hope to do the same for my students.
Derek Smith:Talking to Winter Rusiloski. And Winter, is there a part of the mentorship process and the classroom or studio experience that, in particular, is most exciting to you or most meaningful?
Winter Rusiloski:Oh, that's tricky. That's another tricky one. It's hard because there are some students I have that it may just be one class, and they come in, and I see such development in that one semester or even just development of their perspective of what art can be, because even though, in my course, we're learning about painting, I try to make the discussion bigger than that, about art in general. What can art do? Why are we making art? What are we saying? What kind of questions can we ask? And even though in an early course, so much of the emphasis is on the technique and the practice, we can begin, we look at contemporary artists. We look at art history, and we discuss the content, and the content is very meaningful. So even just seeing the development a student may have from the beginning of a painting course and thinking what is painting, to what they think painting is, an art is, by the end of that course is very rewarding. And then of course, having the students that are with me for multiple classes that, in particular, I have one I'm thinking of just now that had got through the program, got her BFA in painting, went on. Now, I've seen her get her MFA in painting, and now having professional shows and jobs. So it's incredibly rewarding. And I tell all of my students that, really, I'm here for them lifelong. It doesn't end when they walk out the door, that I will always be a resource and support them in their life. So it's wonderful to stay in touch with so many of them and hear what they're doing.
Derek Smith:As a professor in the arts, you mentioned some grants that you've received to support your work. We talk to professors sometimes in the sciences who receive a grant or they published. What are some of the tie-ins in the artistic world? What are some of the ways that that translates on the art side of the ledger?
Winter Rusiloski:So for many artists, for example, I've received several grants that allow me to continue traveling, continuing to buy materials, to do shows. For example, I had a grant to do a solo show that I did down in the border of Texas, where some of my research had been actually traveling the border, so to get down into area and have a solo show. And it was really rewarding because I was able to then disseminate and have discussion with the students and with people from that community about the work. And there's so many different grants, whether it's getting a grant to help get your work to listen a show in South Korea and get funding to... Because even in art, the materials are expensive, the travel's expensive, getting the work there, getting to go there, there are different times you go and give talks, but it's all about, for one, in the visual arts, we have what we call juried exhibitions or refereed exhibitions, which is the same as or similar to a peer-reviewed article. For us, it's an exhibition. So I get a grant to make work, and then from that work I've made, I'm entering it into these juried exhibitions where the jurors are the museum directors, the museum curators from internationally, from top museums, and then they're putting shows together and choosing so that for us, that's what a peer-reviewed mean. I just found out a few days ago that I'm in a show at the Alexandria Museum of Art in Louisiana, and that was an international juried show, where they select maybe 50 artists from around the world to be in the show. That's an example of a slice of... And they're all different, like what's going on in contemporary art today. Some of them are more focused. I was in South Korea. That exhibition, which was a juried exhibition, was international, and the focus was contemporary landscape. So for me, that was really rewarding to know that what I've been working at got selected to be in that exhibition. So there's all different ones, but for us, the exhibiting is like the article, if that makes sense. And then the funding can relate in all different ways. It can relate to the process of making. It can relate to the transportation to get there. It can relate to various levels of the work.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, you've done a great job describing that and helping to, I think, see your painting, at least, in our minds as we've talked. But if people would like to see some of your work, whether online or in person, what are some ways they can do that?
Winter Rusiloski:I exhibit with Artspace111 gallery in Fort Worth. So I'm one of their represented artists, which I'm so honored and thrilled to be with them. They've been a very important gallery in Texas for the last 20 or more years and some really great, great artists there, who've show all over the world and shows at museums and collected everywhere. So I'm so happy to be with that group. So Artspace111 is probably one of the best places where my work is always there. Even if it's not on the wall currently in a show because they rotate out the shows, they always have my work there. So that's one of the easiest spots because Fort Worth isn't too far away. Other than that, I try to keep up my Instagram actually. Winterrusiloski is more up to date than my website, quite honestly.
Derek Smith:Yeah. Instagram, winterrusiloski, and that's R-U-S-I-L-O-S-K-I, and they can find that on Instagram. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us, and hope people will check out your work, and look forward to seeing more ahead. Congratulations on your upcoming exhibitions, and we'll look forward to more.
Winter Rusiloski:Oh, thank you so much. It was great to be here.
Derek Smith:Great to visit. Winter Rusiloski, a professional painting and associate professor of painting in Baylor's department of art and art history, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.