Through the use of image, line and color, Rubenoff explores ideas of vulnerability, pain and pleasure. The representation of flowers is a reoccuring symbol in her paintings, utilizing their ability to illustrate history, ideals of beauty, vitality, mourning and loss. Her work exists in a tenuous space between the ubiquitous and the highly personal. The bold and unapologetic rendering of this subject acts as both a form of empowerment and an embrace of vulnerability. Her subject matter reflects the labor, the imagined tactility and sexuality of gardens. Rubenoff uses the romantic and enduring language of flowers to consider the history of these culturally weighted symbols and their underestimated potency.
Abstract renderings of flowers are painted directly onto raw canvas, infusing the pigment into the surface. The stained quality of Rubenoff’s paintings directly reference watercolor and fight their expected production in size and surface. Anemone, Lily of the valley, Daffodil, Pansies, Heliotrope are all a part of a melodic composition leading the eye towards an abstraction of flower parts blending together and alluding to the sexual process of cross pollination. The use of an easily deprecated medium brought to a large scale and stretching its limits becomes a statement of overcoming expectation.
Conceptually, Rubenoff’s method of painting runs parallel to the physicality of gardening. She is constantly adding/planting, subtracting/ pruning and building off pre existing relationships. Due to the nature of the watery medium she employs, it is necessary for her to paint on the floor, otherwise the pigment would roll off the canvas. She often kneels next to or stands above the paintings as she works, making her body an integral part of the production. Although she starts with a plan, Rubenoff is receptive to the possibility of the unanticipated within the development of each canvas, much like how a garden is affected by weather and the inevitability of time.
The medium of watercolor has greatly influenced Rubenoff’s work in that it contains a vast amount of historic and conceptual meaning. Throughout history watercolor has been looked at as a stereotypically feminine medium, characteristic of preliminary work/ studies but never realized as having the ability to stand up against the masculine power of oil paint. The process of utilizing these cultural tropes while embracing a historically craft-based medium creates within Rubenoff an awareness of her vulnerability. In turn, this situates her at a place where she can offer valid critique and ask meaningful questions.
Rubenoff speaks to the common prejudice that a fluid or soft thing such as watercolor can’t be powerful. In line with the characteristics of a flower, she generates paintings that are both soft and loud.
Rubenoff sees her use of flower iconography and the medium of watercolor as a direct embrace of femininity and feminism. To Rubenoff there is no dichotomy in sensitivity and power. The absorbent surface alludes to the notion of vulnerability, of being raw and subjected to judgment.
Rubenoff works with paintings of a large scale. Her typical canvas is 15’ long by 6’ high. The use of a large scale engages the viewer in a physical relationship with the painting, and provides an enhanced experience. Rubenoff sees this physical relationship of one’s body to her paintings as having a direct conversation with similar aspects in the minimalist canon of the 60’s and 70’s.
Elaine Rubenoff is an artist and educator based in Chicago, IL. She received her MFA in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and her BA in Studio Art from Framingham State University. She had her first solo exhibition in November of 2017 at Randy Alexander Gallery in Chicago and has participated in numerous group exhibitions since 2013. This past spring and summer Rubenoff received the Carrie Ellen Tuttle Fellowship Award for Painting, and she presented at the HFBK 250th Anniversary in Hamburg, Germany. She currently teaches with CAPE, the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education Program.