Graham Reid | | 5 min read
Every month the popular British music magazine Mojo commissions an artist to do the illustration which accompanies their lead review. Among the big names whose work has appeared there have been Barney Bubbles, Bill McConkey, Ian Wright, Savage Pencil . . .
And in January this year, the New Zealand artist Mark Rutledge from Auckland had one of his ballpoint-on-kauri works there of Bruce Springsteen to run alongside the magazine's review of the Boss' High Hopes album.
A phone call to his home in Auckland finds him busy, but not on his art.
By day 32-year old Rutledge works for a block-laying company so polishes and lays blockwork all over the city.
“It is quite bad on the hands but the hands are tough I guess,” he laughs, although admits he would prefer to be fulltime on his work which includes small scale ballpoint-on-kauri, large oils (“1.2m square, the width of sheet of Gib board or plywood”) and even sewn pieces.
One of the latter was the cover of the 2008 Die! Die! Die! album Promises Promises.
But it is the large scale works he enjoys most, although they are enormously time-consuming.
“With the type of art I do I'm just not making any money. I've been doing this series of portraits which are large scale and intensely detailed so they are taking me one to two years apiece, and that's held me back.”
Working from photographs of his rock'n'roll subjects – “I'm painting my favourite artists, I made a list of who I most wanted to paint and got in contact with them” – he uses grids and a laptop to blow them up to the size of the canvas, pencils in the under-layer then works up from that over-painting in oils.
The result are intricate and he acknowledges “these portraits have become a life-long project so I don't think I'll have an exhibition of these for at least 10 years.
“The last one, of Brandt Bjork [right, and see the time-lapse clip below], I spent 1056 hours on. So it's a real labour of love and I'm very particular about what I want to paint.
"I'm not the kind of artist who can whip up a painting and make a quick buck, because it has to mean something to me if I'm going to put that amount of time into it.
“To do a painting on this scale I want it to be as good as I could possibly do it.”
Among the subjects he has photograohed for work either completed or in the future have been Mike Watt, Nick Oliveri (QOTSA), Warren Ellis from the Dirty 3, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (Mars Volta) and Buzz Osborne (Melvins).
But one of his breakthrough pieces was of local rock'n'roll legend Ray Columbus.
It was inspired by a large painting of Ralph Hotere by the Auckland artist Martin Ball which a friend owned (“I thought, 'That's amazing' and wondered if I could do it better. Well, not better maybe but I thought I could do it.”) and he was introduced to Columbus by his father.
“I had my drawings and we got on really good and he was telling me his rock'n'roll stories of touring with the Rolling Stones. Then he approached me about doing some art for a children's book he wrote, but that never came to fruition.
“But all this sparked the idea of doing a portrait of him and that in turn sparked the idea of a series of rock'n'roll portraits.”
The large portrait of Columbus (above) captured the singer just before he had a stroke and Rutledge entered it into the New Zealand Portrait Awards in 2010.
“It won the People's Choice Award which means people like you but the judges don't,” he laughs. Although last year he was a finalist in the James Wallace Art Awards and the previous year was similarly a finalist with a work which became part of a trevelling exhibition.
A huge Iggy and the Stooges fan – “I've seen them 12 times, been on-stage six times” – he contacted bassist Mike Watt through MySpace after taking a photo of him while on the stage in Greece.
“I sent Mike the photo and he replied wanting to use it in his photos, so then I sent him a photo of a painting I had done of Iggy and he thought it was great. So he asked that I paint the photo of him.
“I sent it to him in San Pedro and he gave me a little bit of money.”
Then he photographed Bjork and Oliveri when they came through Auckland, in 2010 he went to London to see Iggy/Stooges and photograph Watt (“Mike Watt jacked up the tickets for both nights at the Hammersmith Apollo”) and by chance while in the city got the opportunity to photograph his all-time favourite artist, Mark Lanegan.
“I sent him a message and he got back to me two nights before the gig.”
Rutledge got seriousy into painting in the 5th
form at St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton (“From an early age I was always top of the art class, there would always be
someone you'd compete against”) then tried media art at
Waikato Polytech for two years before dropping out after failing a
paper which meant he'd have to repeat the whole thing.
“But what does a degree in painting really get you?”
He traveled to Australia and Britain for five years then came back to New Zealand in 2007 “and got serious about pursuing art”.
The Columbus painting confirmed he could do it, and he hasn't stopped since . . . despite the day job.
And the Mojo portrait of Springsteen?
“They got in touch with me, believe it or not. I did a little drawings series called Dead Heroes – 100m x 100m ballpoint on kauri [Amy Winehouse, right] – and I've got a mate in London, Declan who has a lot of contacts in the music industry.
"I did this drawing of [the late soul singer] Tammi Terrell which I sent over to him, she was one of his all time favourite artists.
“I'd never heard of her. I've got a record now though!
“Anyway Declan put it on Facebook and his mate who was the art editor for
Mojo saw it and e-mailed me.”
And now you are filthy rich?
“I get paid 400 quid, still waiting on it. But it was amazing exposure.”
But the commissions are rolling in?
“Not yet. In fact, you're the first person whose been in contact because of that. But it's great and people are going to see it, and they plugged the website in the magazine so I couldn't be happier about that.”
Rutledge is currently selling limited edition, A4-sized cotton-rag paper prints of the Springsteen work for $90 (which he has signed, see right), but is most pleased that a new piece has just been accepted as a finalist for the 2014 Adam Portrait Award.
It's not a musician but someone very personal, he says.
Given Springsteen is coming to New Zealand, Rutledge might be expected to perhaps be palling around backstage with the Boss and his crew?
“I haven't even got tickets,” he laughs. “I missed out the first time around and I've only just started back working so when they came around the second time . . .
“But I'd like to be there . . . and to present him with one of the prints.”
Mark Rutledge's website is here where you can see a range of work, some time lapse footage of him at work and also order a copy of the Springsteen print.