Painter Tomasz Rut Opens Up About His Artistic Evolution

As Rut experiments with more contemporary modes of expression, he still doesn’t relish being pigeonholed as just one kind of artist.

A painting of a nude woman with a swan
Tomasz Rut, Leda Nova, oil on canvas, 50″ x 33″. Courtesy the artist

Painter Tomasz Rut has been called many things, from “modern-day Master” to one of the most collectible living artists. And while his name often appears alongside those of other contemporary greats, from Francesco Clemente to Dale Chihuly, much of Rut’s body of work wouldn’t look out of place in the historical villas of the Medicis or the Sforzas. Indeed, two Rut canvases are in the Vatican’s permanent collection, blessed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI  himself, alongside works by Michelangelo and Raphael.

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Rut at work. Courtesy the artist

Not long ago, one of Rut’s signatures was the deliberate aging that was a part of his painting process—adding a varnish or a “distressing veil of neutral color,” in the artist’s own words, that let finished pieces simulate the quality of an old fresco. “The idea to use that effect in my work came to me after visiting Pompeii and all its distressed, decayed murals,” Rut told Observer. It occurred to me that despite the damages and partial obliteration, the subject matter of these frescoes usually stayed intact and in fact, the remnants of the paint layer only became more interesting and dramatic, bordering on abstract.”

Convergence of the Arts Event
Rut’s Ex Piare on the ‘Convergence of the Arts’ auction in Miami. Photo by Vallery Jean/WireImage

His early paintings in that style often had unpainted areas that aped paint worn away and were finished with a patina to, as he put it, “suggest the intervention of time and its unforgiving nature.” His subjects—herculean men and spritely women, along with animatedly rearing horses and a host of mythological figures—projected a similar simulated antiquity, though Rut took pains to disassociate himself from labels like Neo-Baroque, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Mannerist and Neo-Classical. Yes, he was making classical, figurative paintings but, as he asserted on his website and in interviews, representational art doesn’t have to be “neo” anything.

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Categorizations aside, this was Rut’s signature style for many years and it served him well. His collectors include Martha Stewart, Sylvester Stallone and Nicolette Sheridan, as well as Creed frontman Scott Stapp and designer Gianni Versace. One copy of Rut’s work Luminaris has appeared in several of Britney Spears’ selfies; Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa owns the original. His work can also be found in several museums, including Seattle’s Frye Museum of Art and Mobile Museum of Art in Alabama.

But in recent years, Rut has moved away from the classically inspired style that once defined his work to paint uber-contemporary pieces that arguably bear little resemblance to what came before. There’s Pop, photorealism, surrealism, hyperrealism… he has even dabbled in abstraction. The artist, however, contends that his newer work, which features everything from vibrantly colorful amalgamate creatures to richer-than-real foodstuffs (Waffles is a personal favorite), is less an artistic transformation than it is a continuation of the motifs he found in antiquity.

“The squashed cans of Campbell’s soup or Coca-Cola, the crumpled photographs and the magazine covers in protective sleeves or the series of endangered animals in bubble wrap all have a lot in common with my old distressing process and are not unlike the Pompeiian frescoes,” he said. “I’m still depicting objects scarred by time or subject matter enclosed in a veil of dramatic tension.”

A painting of a crumpled candy bar wrapper
Tomasz Rut, Reese’s, oil on canvas, 58″ x 31″. Courtesy the artist

Rut, who likes to listen to music as he paints and found himself drawn away from classical and toward jazz as his painting evolved, simply doesn’t discriminate where subject matter is concerned. For all the splashier colors and modern flair of his newer paintings, there are nods to his past work everywhere: the powerfully muscled horses in his “Rodeo” series or the animals borrowed from ancient mythologies or the time-worn refuse of our modern life. His newest paintings are still very much Tomasz Rut paintings with all their attention to detail and overt drama, but he’s exploring more playful subject matter and letting his curiosity take him in directions that let him flex his skills.

“To me, the world is not mundane,” he said. Whether it’s figurative or representational or surreal or abstract, he sees beauty everywhere he looks. But even as he covers new, more modern ground and experiments with more contemporary modes of expression, he still doesn’t particularly like the idea of being pigeonholed as one kind of artist.

“I don’t particularly care what I’m expected to paint and I don’t want to be remembered as a ‘preeminent figurative painter’ only,” Rut said. “To me it’s all interesting and worth my attention.”

A painting of a stacked bloody mary
Tomasz Rut, Bloody Mary, oil on canvas, 38″ x 59″. Courtesy the artist

Painter Tomasz Rut Opens Up About His Artistic Evolution