With their maps and legends, wire-frame forms and double helixes, volcanic cross-sections and strings of numbers, Rebecca Rutstein’s paintings present a daunting array of information to the viewer. That each of these images derives from different disciplines—from cartography to geology to biology to mathematics—further complicates matters. Exactly what does one need to know to understand these paintings? With how many sciences must one be familiar to appreciate their workings?

The short answer is none. Rutstein’s paintings may, as she suggests, take inspiration from the Limestone Mountains of the Canadian Rockies where she completed a residency in summer of 2003. But in the end, a hint about their meaning may be found in the name of one of her recent exhibitions, punningly titled “Love and Subduction.” This playful marriage of human affection and plate tectonics points to what’s really at stake in Rutstein’s art; intimacy.

Rutstein finds apt metaphors for human interaction. “Nature’s volatility is mirrored in our lives which are constantly moving, melding, wandering, shifting, eroding, exploding, separating and coming back together,” she writes. As everyone who’s been there knows, love is full of complexity. It can’t be simply described, let alone simply defined. But if you find yourself standing before one of Rebecca Rutstein’s paintings scratching your head and trying to sort out the morphology of mountains and molecules, relax, it’s not rock science.

Gerard Brown, 2004
Essays by Gerard Brown were written for 2004 Pew Fellowships in the Arts Recipients