Written by Kim Weeks from her interview with Rudi Broschofsky
It would not be an overstatement to say that in order to create his paintings, contemporary Western artist Rudi Broschofsky needs the steady and precise hands of a surgeon. And while the creation of his work is painstaking and fine, the overall effect is immense and impactful.
Rudi has done his share of creating art with a drawing pencil and paintbrush, but the most-used tools in his studio include an X-Acto KnifeÔ, to create fine lines or dots, and spray paint, to create swaths of bright colors. If this evokes an image of graffiti, spray-painted on a city wall, you wouldn’t be far off, because Rudi’s art is heavily inspired by his love of street art. For clarification, a quick GoogleÔ search reveals that graffiti is art meant for other graffiti artists, while street art is meant for a public audience. And, luckily, Rudi’s art definitely falls into the latter category.
Rudi’s parents were voracious art collectors, he says, and as a child he would accompany them on trips around the country to collect art and make connections, which eventually led them to open a gallery in the late 80s in the town of in Ketchum, Idaho.
“I was this toddler going along with them on all these trips. So, I was born right into the whole art scene,” Rudi said. “[The gallery] was my after school program. When I got done with elementary school, which was just a few blocks away, I would just find my way to the gallery, and that was the after school hangout zone for me until it was time to go home. So I’ve always learned to watch my step and not touch things.”
Rudi’s parents primarily collected Western art, but also some transcendental art, which, by definition, moves visual art beyond the literal appearance of the physical world, allowing for new representations in design, space and color. When one looks at Rudi’s art, one can see how, together, these might have been early formative influences for his work.
While he enjoyed it as a child, Rudi says he didn’t love art any more than any other kid his age. But as he grew older, he came to truly appreciate it and spent more time at it. Rudi lived with his parents on a remote dirt road in the Sawtooth National Forest, and there were no neighborhood kids to spend time with, so art became his pastime.
“I had a VHS cassette player with skateboard and snowboard movies and stuff, and I just watched those on repeat all of the time. And I wasn’t a really big reader or anything, so drawing was probably my main hobby that I would do pretty much every night,” Rudi said. “I’d usually replicate comic books or snowboard figures, but I would take a small image, and I’d try to blow it up to a larger scale, and try to paint it larger.”
This concept of expanding images is still part of Rudi’s process, but he’s no longer the youthful “copycat” that he described himself to be. During high school and summers in college, Rudi took many art classes, but he also worked at a local frame shop, which played a key role in developing his unique technique and style.
“[Working at a frame shop] teaches you about interior design for artwork, because you’re matching frames and mats and just trying to guide people in the right direction on how something would look in a good size and proportion,” Rudi said. “And one big part of my process is [cutting mats very intricately]. I actually got a nickname [at the frame shop], ‘The Surgeon,’ because I could cut a sheet of paper on top of another sheet of paper without cutting the bottom sheet.”
After high school graduation, Rudi spent 3 years in Santa Barbara, CA, and two years at San Diego State University, where he graduated with a degree in business finance, which he had planned to use helping his parents run the gallery. Like most kids, Rudi said he had more than his share of fun in college. Snowboarding and skateboarding were his favorite pastimes, in addition to a very occasional ‘night crawl’ to create art with a can of spray paint. At school he lived the storied crazy college life, packed into a duplex with ten other people. Their party house was even decked out with a half-pipe that they purchased from the local YMCA.
“We just had this really cool house, and we’d have these giant parties constantly, at least weekly. And we bought boxing gloves, and we’d have paintball guns, and all sorts of ruckus-causing stuff,” he said.
After graduation, Rudi headed back to Idaho to work in the family’s gallery. He admits that he had a lot to learn about running a gallery, but also had much to teach in the way of using technology to streamline operations. While running the gallery, and eventually becoming a partner, Rudi amassed a collection of street art and continued to create his own paintings. But it was a visit from a friend, another gallery director in town, that gave him the “kick in the pants” he needed to start honing his concepts and selling his work.
“She was about to have an art show at her parents’ gallery, and it was a locals art show. … She saw my stuff around the house, and it was a hodgepodge of things you would never know were all done by the same artist. It was a snowboarder on one, or a big John Wayne in kind of Andy Warhol style on another wall. It was all sorts of different media and different styles. But she really liked it and we put on a show together,” he said. “I sold most everything in the show, and that was just throwing everything together at the last minute.”
Soon after, Rudi was delivered another “kick in the pants” in the form of a call for artists to design the wrap for electrical boxes around town. This was a project that fired up Rudi’s street art sensibilities.
“I wanted to do something where if you were driving and you were a few blocks away, it would look like basically a photographic image. And then as you drive closer, it would become kind of abstract,” he said.
Rudi took recognizable images and blew them up until they were pixelated, then hand-created the dots or lines that made up the images, so they look like completely different works when the viewer is far versus when they are close. He found that in doing this, though, he might spend hours and days working on an image, only to find out that it was not going to work. Enter Cara Shumate, his girlfriend and graphic designer, who helped Rudi develop a process using the computer that will allow him to see and manipulate the image on screen, thereby saving him countless hours.
In 2015, Rudi and Cara got married and moved to Portland, OR, where she had received a job offer from Smith Optics, and Rudi pursued his dream of opening a street art gallery.
“I thought it was a pretty cool niche market. There just aren’t a lot of successful street art galleries out there, and I thought the ones that are out there are just killing it every time,” he said. “And if you have the right artists you can be successful. So, I thought it was going to be this easy deal.”
Rudi found out, however, that it was not an easy deal. A combination of the Portland art market, the unpredictability of some of his artists, and his gallery’s location forced Rudi to take on work and artists that he had not been interested in. But it also forced him to create his own work to fill the walls of the gallery during busy months.
“I’d end up hanging my own art or just getting so frustrated, I’d close the gallery for the weekdays and started working on my own stuff,” he said. “All those battles just pushed me into doing my own thing. And what was keeping me afloat, too, was just selling stuff at represented galleries that carried my work. And I realized that’s where the cash flow is coming from.”
The gallery eventually closed and Cara and Rudi moved back to Idaho, where he resumed his role as gallery director, which he still does to this day. Rudi continues to create his art using the technique he started in high school and strives to perfect it, with the help of his wife.
Rudi has been known to say that he is “a skater not a cowboy,” but the influence of both genres is strong in his paradoxical work. Look at his paintings, and you will see images of iconic Native Americans, like those in Medicine Crow or Sitting Bull. You will see classic Western animals, like those in Moose and Stampede, or popular western culture like John Wayne in Out for a Stroll. Perhaps the most delightfully contradictory piece is Wagon Train, featuring donkeys pulling a train of Conestoga wagons.
“Given my history and working in the gallery, I was into western art. I just didn’t like the traditional style so much,” he said. “This was a really cool niche I picked up on. All my subjects, or at least the majority, are really traditional stuff. It’s turn of the century or old school, Annie Oakley or John Wayne. But it’s done in that modern style. It’s ‘back to the future.’”
Rudi’s process has many steps, each one requiring both vision and finesse. He finds one of those old school, unlicensed photographs, blows it up, and alters it on the computer. He then creates lines on the image, using a certain number of lines per inch, then fine tunes and balances the spacing to make it work up close and far away, depending the size of the room.
There is a lot to consider in this step, in terms of perspective and size. Once the image in complete, he sends it out of state to a large format printer, who prints this stencil for him. He then traces the lines, cutting every one by hand with an X-Acto knife, a process which takes about a month.
“I love starting a new project, and I love working on them. Usually I have a podcast and a coffee in the morning, and I have a couple different studios. I usually have a different project going in each one. One being in the gallery where I spend my entire day,” he said. “It’s great for a gallery setting because it’s not like I have wet paint in front of me and I have to keep working. If someone comes in I can set down my X-Acto knife and go work with a customer or respond to an email.”
The next step is arranging the stencil and getting it ready for spray painting, which is then followed by a layer of resin.
“Painting is the nerve wracking part, because the stencil is so delicate and finicky. It’s like organizing spaghetti, because you have to get every line straight and the paper doesn’t just sit flat. And if it’s not flat then your spray paint is going to go underneath,” he said. “That isn’t the worst thing. It’s kind of nice to have some imperfections like that and show your process, but to the extreme it can ruin an entire painting pretty quickly.”
Rudi has been using this process for more than 12 years now, but he says he learns something new each time. Despite not having the time to fully experiment with techniques and subject matter, he has begun to add new elements to certain paintings, like adding a fine shimmering powder to the resin to create a luster, or a double layer of paint or resin to add depth and interest. Using every opportunity to learn and grow, Rudi says he enjoys and appreciates commission work, because it challenges him to paint things and use colors that he might not normally use.
“I don’t want to change my whole style for this one painting, but because she wanted it, I got to play around and experiment with it for her. And it’s something I want to do more of in the future,” he said. “It’s the same with colors. People want to match their pillows or wallpaper or something, and I think ‘Oh, I don’t know about those colors.’ And then I’ll paint it and I’ll go, ‘Actually, that’s pretty cool.’”
Rudi says, despite being immersed in the art world, he still finds it challenging to find galleries to represent his work, which is why he was so happy to be discovered by Montana Trails Gallery.
“Steve [Zabel, MTG co-owner] ended up reaching out to me a few times, and he was really complimentary and really liked my unique style and work,” he said. “We ended up building a relationship, and just starting small and building up.”
MTG director Maria Abad said she loves having Rudi’s work in the gallery and looks forward to seeing more from him.
“Here at Montana Trails, we have very traditional Western oil paintings, and we have paintings that feature neon lights and bright comic book colors. Rudi’s paintings fit right in and appeal to a whole new generation of Western art collectors.”
Rudi is excited about the upcoming show at MTG, in which he and brother-sister artist team, 2Wild, together unveil “The West Reimagined.” The show title accurately represents Rudi’s work, which brings a fresh vibrancy to the MTG walls, and a modernity and youthful exuberance to traditional western art.
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