Eric Ruschman

April 5th, 2011  |  Published in Announcements  |  2 Comments

21st Century Pop Culture Man

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! Take This: New Paintings – Eric Ruschman at Aisle Gallery

While the rest of us, by framing our identities on social networking websites, playlists, Netflix queues, and avatars, fulfill the prophecies of dead postmodern writers who saw daily life being taken over by the effects of technology; Cincinnati artist Eric Ruschman takes the task of inventorying the various ways he, and the rest of us, identify with pop culture in a show that references everything from The Legend of Zelda to Judy Blume to the television show LOST.

In this exhibition, Ruschman plays a kind of pop culture trivia game with the viewer, in that his references, both painted and in the titles, can make or break one’s understanding of the piece. For example, Put a Bird on It, a painting featuring a large pigeon painted on geometric patterns that resemble the dungeon levels found in the of the original Legend of Zelda game, is a reference to the television show Portlandia; a show this author hadn’t seen prior to this exhibition. After some quick Internet research, I discovered that the show mocks the designer trend of putting a bird on something to make it sellable. This notion is used by Ruschman in a meta-commentary on taking what’s popular and putting it in one’s artwork to make it more marketable (this particular piece is also one of the highest priced in the show, which, although perhaps coincidental, would drive this idea a little further).

Another example of Ruschman’s pop culture commentary is visible in the centerpiece of the show, a series of brightly colored gallery pedestals titled We Have to Go Back to the Island #2, a reference to the television show LOST; a show this author had a near unhealthy relationship with. LOST, in its highly addictive, serialized labyrinthine plotlines about survivors stranded on a semi-magical island, gave its fans six years of television that turned the simple act of watching into something of an event, prompting endless theorizing and discussion. We Have to Go Back to the Island #2 is the largest in the show, and in its not being a hanging painting, the most formally disparate in the exhibition. Considering that the artist has alluded to LOST in several other exhibitions (going so far as to make a line of dialogue from the show an exhibition title) alongside the scale of We Have to Go Back to the Island #2 and its position at the center of the other paintings, one can conclude (its seemingly alluded to winkingly in the title) that perhaps, more than any other work derived from popular culture in the show, Ruschman mourns the end of this particular phenomenon, and the experience of something that allowed so well the intervention of popular culture into the daily minutiae.

As evidenced by other pieces in the show, Ruschman seems to (yet with tongue in cheek) posit the personal with popular culture: his cat is painted as a hopeful internet meme in Saint Kitten as Internet Meme (Take 1: Long Cat); he goes through an apparent existential/religious crisis with Are You There God? It’s Me, Eric, a painting that separates itself from the word “God” seen on the adjoining wall; shows his love for animals in Even if You Aren’t Magic, I Wish You Would Have Kept Your Rabbit, a reference to (Spoiler Alert!) the end of Sylvain Chomet’s film “The Illusionist” in which a magician abandons his longtime companion, a white rabbit. This piece could also be reflective of the entire exhibition and its relation to the viewer, in that, as I mentioned earlier, Ruschman plays something of a game, testing our knowledge of popular culture. With pieces like this one, and those surrounding it, he invites us to view popular culture as an experience, both symbolically in his work and literally in the exhibition itself.

Pop art of the past served its intentions differently, by aligning low art with high art, and, for the most part, removing any personal sentiments of the artist who painted it. Works like Ruschman’s are indicative of a new kind of pop art, one that is more in line with the 21st century in that it invites one to get lost in the simulacrum of the fictional versus the non in our daily lives. For better or worse, this “condition” doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and, perhaps, the best way to get through it all is to enjoy it, something Ruschman, and his work, are more than willing to oblige to.

– Chris Reeves


Chris Reeves is an artist and one of the curators and operators of Museum Gallery/Gallery Museum, an art gallery in Cincinnati. He holds a BA in Art History and is currently working towards an MA in the same discipline at the University of Cincinnati.


  1. Steven says:

    April 6th, 2011at 9:14 pm(#)

    Nice article, this was a tight show.

  2. Marc Governanti says:

    April 18th, 2011at 12:42 pm(#)

    Great article.