Paintings for the people
I always wanted to be Michelangelo,” muralist Chris Rutterford confesses. “I always loved the robust ambition of his artwork. He spent his time telling spectacular stories and entertaining the masses. He is still the main reason why we go to the Vatican. I want to energize spaces like he did.”
The kilt-wearing Rutterford has a comic illustrator background. His first large-format painting was a 2x3m war painting called the Jacobite Stramash, which depicted Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army arriving in Edinburgh in the 18th century.
“It took me a year and a half to complete,” he says. “When I realized I needed live models and a deadline, I held an event where I put the painting on the floor and invited people to come and be part of my army. People showed up in wigs and swords and sat for me and I painted them into my painting. Building communities through my artwork has been a preoccupation ever since.”
Turning his painting into happenings has become a speciality; Rutterford paints at art galleries and festivals, as well as live on the streets, and has beamed a TED talk (Technology, Entertainment and Design video conferences) across the Atlantic to UCLA in Los Angeles. Over the last few years he has painted a succession of massive paintings, usually with, or featuring, huge crowds.
“Sometimes I paint the crowd and sometimes the crowd paints with me. I really see them as community bonding events. I generally remember all the people that I have painted and the human interaction when I met them,” he says.
In recent years, Rutterford has produced a 22m long mural of Tam o’ Shanter – based on the poem by Robert Burns about a drunken farmer, a 20m long depiction of the fans at Ibrox Football Stadium celebrating a goal being scored and a 25m long painting depicting a traditional Scottish new year, which features over 3,000 portraits of real people. Alongside these, he has produced a 60m long community mural, which he painted collaboratively alongside 300 schoolchildren from four schools. He also helped to establish a new street art free-paint zone.
“To be honest, I think much modern art has quite modest ambitions,” Rutterford says. “Painting can be viewed as old-fashioned, but like in the Sistine
Chapel, I find people are still hugely excited when they come across an artist confirming what they think art really should be.”
In order to paint so many people, people who are often just passing by, he has to paint fast. And he believes that immediacy adds more emotional urgency to his imagery.
“I want artworks that drip with life,” he says. “If the viewer can read my need to communicate then they have a bigger chance of getting an emotional connection to the picture.”
He admits that he’s never really finished with a painting. “I don’t think finished paintings make anyone happy – they are dead when they are done. It is painting on the cutting edge of creation that I’ve found fascinates the public the most. I have a Rangers Football Club painting that I am working on for the Bristol Sports Bar in Glasgow – they wanted to capture the joyful moment of a goal being scored. I keep building on it every three months, putting more and more people in it. It’s never going to end…”
Text: Sofia Zetterman
Published: September 23, 2016