Paintings From…

You‘ve likely seen him on the streets of Hudson, seated before his canvas in a multi-colored paint daubed t-shirt and shorts, his straw hat providing shade for all but his tanned forearms and knees. His splattered Technicolor Walkman tape player blasting, earphones neatly tucked beneath the hat alive and driving with the strains of Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner or Donna Summer. He is Dan Rupe, a supremely talented artist as bright and dazzling as his paintings.

At one time in his life, living in Chicago, he painted from photographs. One day he ventured into his garden, set up his easel and went to work, “I never painted from a photograph again. Why, when I could paint life? I went from the studio to the garden, to the street. The experience I got painting and the people, all sorts of people from all walks of life, their interaction, caused me to value living, being an artist I was safe to talk to, to approach. I was part of the world, part of street theatre.”

Dan Rupe was born in Elkhart, Indiana. His father, although born in a log cabin in western Kentucky, rose from poverty to become a surgeon. He worked at the hospital. He worked all the time. Dan was raised as a Mennonite. “We were World Conference, we had chrome on our bumpers and zippers,” he chuckles. They were a close family, lived out in the country and had a large garden. “Mom canned everything, not because of money, but because this is how you do it.” It’s a midwestern thing. He had chores to do and gained a work ethic, “I still get up early to do my work, I trust it, my mind is clearest, my emotional slate is cleanest in the early morning.”

The daughter of a neighboring farmer was in her 30’s, a beatnik and an artist. She gave Dan art lessons; working in pastels and soap carving, he was six. Dan had three heroes growing up, “Amelia Erhardt, because she was so strong she got lost. Georgia O’Keefe, nothing could stop her and Marilyn Monroe, her beauty could not stop her.”

Dan’s mother had a beautiful singing voice and urged him to take music lessons. At eleven he got serious about oil paints. Turning sixteen he decided to be a painter instead of a musician. “My father took me for a drive and told me how difficult it was going to be making a living from my art. I though it wouldn’t be any more difficult that music.” The following year he went off to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan with his parents blessing.

Always one to seek out truth, at seventeen, Dan went to his family and his church and told them he was homosexual, “They did not reject me, which amazed me.” Fond affection passes over Dan’s eyes, pride in his family for their courage and willingness to embrace truth. At this time Dan also made a clear shift in his painting, “I eliminated black and earth tones from my palette. I saw murky, muddy paintings and students struggling to get clear images and not understanding why.”

Today Dan embraces this same technique. Under painting in red, his vivid colors vibrate with unique power, “Painting provides immediate response. I work in oils because the paint doesn’t shift in tonality, there is truth in the color.” When Dan teaches he tells his art students, “The Jibber-Jabber in your mind is a lie, go with your first thought it’s the truth, the most important of all. Choosing your subject whatever it may be is about honestly experiencing what is in front of you. It is what you need to create.” Dan smiles, “Art is not a noun. Art is a verb, you must take action.”

Dan lived and painted all over the world, from Katmandu to Easter Island, the Dominican, Mexico, Wisconsin, Chicago, Provincetown to L.A. He lived the fast lane pace of booze and drugs for a time, “I thought I’d either live to 110 or die young. At some point in your life, life slips and you ask, do I want to live or die? I chose to live. I put on the brakes and turned it around.”

Dan could have become a well known artist in the L.A. art scene, but the demeaning jobs he’d have to take to get there angered him and that was troubling. Then a moment of synchronicity occurred. He helped two friends move to Hudson from L.A., “The instant I drove into town I burst into tears, the architecture, the beauty, the grit, the past splendor and years of neglect. It was real, so I moved here. Where I live, I become there.”

I ask why he loves painting on the street. “I’m attracted to the color and patterns and the light. I choose to make art brightly with bold strokes, it’s laughing out loud with nothing to hide, I just let it out. I want people to stop and look at my work, I love to talk to them, it’s life, it’s genuine. I know who I am when I paint.”

September 14, 2003 Dan will have a show at West Point, his largest to date, a retrospective with 200 pieces titled, “Dan Rupe: LIFE, Paintings From...”

What’s the dream, Dan?”

“To paint, just to paint and to have a house of my own and guest rooms.” He pauses and smiles, “Oh, yes, and I want surprise.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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