Sometimes what an artist most needs to get themselves involved “is a kick in the butt,” said artist Ron Russon of Lehi, UT who had graduated from BYU in 1996 with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Illustration Design. Working on books and magazines and commercial projects, apparently, “I had made the right choice, I was doing well. But the subject matter. That was lacking. I liked the editorial content where you get to use your mind with it, you get to use metaphor, and instead of a strait ‘this is what we want,’ art directed kind of material. But from a student to paying the bills, that wasn’t bad.”
Everything was a young collage graduate’s utopia until the technological era caught up with Russon and began to pour on his parade. “Soon after,” says Russon, “these guys who had been illustrating for 40 or 50 years, discovered the scanner, that scanned 50 years worth of images, put all of it on one disk, and sold the rights. So, in one year, the same job, that was $2200 went to $300 and the same year ‘Will you do it for $75?’ At that point the fine art market became flooded with artists who had been illustrators.”
To continue the transition of the illustrator who would be fine artist who needed a “kick in the butt,” in ’98-2000, Russon began to take being a fine artist seriously. It was something he had always toyed with and considered. Illustration had always lacked the depth for him that he desired. He describes an incident as an illustrator when he drew an Uncle Sam over a house with a large piece of red tape over it and thought, “What am I doing? There was not a whole lot of artistic integrity there.”
Says Russon, “I come from an agrarian background, farming, so it’s really about practicality. With art, you can’t eat it, you can’t live in it, and so it is really impractical from my background. But it is something I had always been interested in since I was a young kid and I went to Lehi High School, where they really did not push art, but after my mission, I had to fulfill an elective at UVSC. I took a drawing class. And after I took an art history class, and I saw the abstract expressionists and it blew my mind! And I thought, ‘you don’t have to be a Norman Rockwell to be the next big thing. From that practical background, thinking Norman Rockwell is high art, till you sit in a room with Rothkos and you get it and there is this huge impact.”
From that point, Russon got his “kick in the butt” and states that from then on, “I’d live in a box if I have to because this is the right thing.”
For Russon, the transition into abstract art was wildlife painting. For the artist, metaphor has always been the primary concept to his work. “Wolf Trio” is a manifestation of his spiritual beliefs as well as a manifestation of his abstract manner of expression of composition, which has a singular presentation of its own. Russon tells me he likes to use the number three with his religious expression, but the idea of the lone wolf, together in a unity takes on a new metaphorical reality. “For me, my story comes from the religious aspect, or if I’m dealing with an issue of my own, I see it from a spiritual perspective.”
Although Russon’s lens is specifically spiritual, it is entirely universal, and his metaphorical abstract expression can be read for meaning on a personal level as Russon describes the metaphor of the wolf being descriptive because “it stands for what it is and that cannot be hid.” The viewer will find their own reality in Russon’s work, while open to many possibilities, although it is what it is, and is descriptive of certain states of being. For “Wolf Trio,” these certain states of reality are metaphor not in what they are not, but what they are, what qualities the wolf possesses. This is NOT conceptual art. This is why Russon paints wildlife and nature, and the qualities contained therein that offer a wealth of meaningful possibility for abstract painting.
The wolf is strong and is a pack animal. It will defend the other, it will fight for the pack, hunt and kill. For these qualities and not for qualities that are figurative does Russon use the wolf but for literal ways of its being, also focusing on the structure of its body, and like a cubist, looking for the truth of its form, in and of itself representational of its strength, its natural beauty and creation. The wolf already IS the metaphor for attributes that Russon’s audience might relate to or attain to. Standing as if on a mist, within a green forest, with salmon pink light coming through, we find them as representational of the trinity, or representational of whom or what we might aspire to be, our fight, our steadfastness, as we walk the mists of life, never alone, and seek for our own reality, for the good of ourselves and the good of others.
An entirely different piece is a landscape, “Green Hill.” Here again, we find Russon’s own singular use of metaphor; using a literal meaning found within iconography to convey through a metaphorical reflection the wealth of meaning it contains. The question… is it abstract? Compositionally, yes, but metaphorically, it literally states all it needs to. There are no conceptual leaps and bounds necessary. Russon uses the meanings of his abstracted landscape on a literal plane. Once again, we find the center in three red trees. The implications in this painting are too vast to grapple with, their universal possibilities are immense, but as Russon describes it to me, the line falling vertically could represent ancestry… it also represents one’s own past as it has been, a personal history, the passage of time, and the central bold line of red the ground, the present. Russon uses the lines as a literal manifestation of so much possibility of literal meaning, although there is a heterology; temporality, past, present and future, ancestry, history, these lines are what they are. There is a certain practicality to this approach; a utility to it, there is substance to this that is the kind that comes from the agrarian, the farmer, but the structures, the abstract composition comes from the artist.
Very different in nature that reveals an acute level of practicality and artistic utility is “Bison Tribes.” Here we see in a somewhat Andy Warholian mode, a background that is still literal in substance yet its whole has been abstracted, a webbing of forest, a dense and fibrous articulation of flora that looks almost jungle-like. In the space that distinguishes it, we find an even lighter salmon pink that seeps through that is very bright. Like Warhol, Russon has taken a bison and with 4 different layers with three on each layer, has applied a different highlighted color to each layer, orange, turquoise, yellow, and steel blue.
How is this in anyway practical? By using the literal metaphor of the animal and the character of the bison, by what we see on the canvas in this abstract articulation of form, we discover the reality of these animals, and we project of the essences and ideals of ourselves as we perceive these creatures. They are each in a tribe, assuming a unique color, a different color, and in that tribe- again the number three is adhered to- one follows the other, and is secured to and grounded by the other. One is never alone. Yet there is a mass, a universality to the total, a universality of difference, that together finds a unity in a harmony of commonality and likeness, yet each remains the same in their essential differences, guided by the other, through the density and through and towards the light.
Ron Russon got his “kick in the butt,” but he did not have to loose himself, and was not dishonest to his own reality in doing so. In his truth to himself as an artist, his method is singular and definitive of his past, and present and who he is spiritually and in humanity as an artist. Russon is an exemplar that one need not “sell out,” that one might remain authentic and be true to find the greatest success and happiness both inward and outward.