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Contemporary artist Andrew Rush is the founder of The Drawing Studio. He's been an active member of the Rancho Linda Vista community in Oracle since its inception 30 years ago.
TW: WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO BRING THE ARTS INTO THE COMMUNITY?
It's in how we think. Artists look at life as a possibility, and as a collaboration. In public meetings I watch it all the time; that ability to see beyond--that imaginative edge--keeps exploding the conventional look and starts a process. It's not always comfortable, but that's what artists bring to the party.
Everything I know or have to say about art or community has come out of living at Rancho Linda Vista. We had our 30th anniversary this year. I see a connection between art and artists and community participation. Art, in all its forms, is now public domain. It's where the important philosophic conversations are going on, about our life and our values.
At the same time, I don't think that artists really know, as a whole, that what they do really matters. They don't behave that way, anyway. If they did, they'd stop complaining about how nobody cares, they'd throw out their tin cups and all this petitioning for money, and I think they'd get on boards and get to work and get elected and raise some real hell with their imaginative skills.
We've got several people who work on the boards of the Oracle Historical Society out here. I'm the chairman of our steering committee for the Oracle Town Hall. We're all just engaged out here (in the larger community); it's just part of life.
TW: HOW DO YOU NOURISH A COMMUNITY OF ARTISTS?
It's a rare thing to have an artist family that roots for you--that celebrates your accomplishments and tells you the truth when you're full of shit. Good artists really respect what's authentic. So I started The Drawing Studio (601 S. Fifth Ave.) seven years ago, when I noticed a lot of my artist friends in Tucson were getting tired of the competitive business-model of art, and were hungry for more of the compassion and sharing that's part of the trade as well.
It's still a baby, but it's become my effort to make an actual place for artists to work together. It's not a business, because we don't make money. The closest definition I have is that it's a "collaborative association." We've done a lot of exhibitions; we do self-managed evenings, life courses, monoprinting. We've done art retreats, taken trips, organized conversations about art. And we offer ways for beginning people or new people to get involved, so we keep an open door on it. If ever you want to see something amazing, Thursday night (at the studio) is the drawing night; it's an amazing vibration down there. And so it's churning...though I don't know where it's going.
We're starting up our fall series of workshops and courses, and we have a newsletter that we put out four times a year. Anybody who wants to know what's happening is welcome to get on our list. (Call 620-0947 for information.)
TW: WHAT'S A GOOD EXAMPLE OF IMAGINATIVE LEADERSHIP?
If I was looking for a model of an artist who, out of her imaginative skill as a theatre person, did what I call "go to work in the world" and use that imagination to work on community problems, Molly McKasson's about the most all-around hero I know. She's got to have a spine of steel! I'm so tired of the wimp level of artists in the world. Lots of kids out of art school are what I call the "hot-house plant variety"--until there's been a little bit of tempering or knocking around, nobody's home yet. I want more Molly McKassons in this world.
TW: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PUBLIC ART PROJECTS?
I like Barbara Grygutis' work wherever I see it. And I like her little park down there on Main Avenue. I love the old Garden of Gethsemane down on the Santa Cruz River. That was done by a Mexican/Hispanic guy who got out of WWII with his head still screwed on, and (the park) was his thanks to God, his expression of gratitude.
Another nice project is the Transit Center. Melody (Peters) did a great job. They used bricks out of the old Jacome warehouses down there. Then Melody used the traditional cast and low-fire tile of the Hispanic tradition, with a nice modern twist to it. So to me, it is the best of old and new.
That's what we're aiming for with the big piece we're doing in the Gateway Project (downtown), which is rammed earth. We're going to have three kind of modern-looking ruins, as if they were part of the old Presidio Wall, with some tile in them--but we're building them out of dirt. We understand the bidding process will start at the end of this year, and we should be building by February or March (of 1999).
TW: WHAT'S HISTORY BEHIND THE PIMA COUNTY COURTHOUSE DOME?
I love the tile, because I'm a tile artist. Over in California, there was briefly (for 15 or 20 years) one of the greatest, brilliant tile cottage-industry businesses in this country. It went out with the Depression because they couldn't make money doing it by hand anymore. A lot of the tile of Catalina Island and California was of that same era (as the courthouse), when there was brilliant design imagination, and great tile-making. That dome is an example of it.
It's neo-Moorish. That is, it's like piece of modern art to me. It has the elements of Art Deco, of the era when we were re-looking at ornamental art with a new eye in this country. We were combining old-looking ornamentation with new industrial technology. This seems a part of that, in which there was this great imaginative interest in very abstract thinking: just shape, form and color. None of the illustrative narration popular in the art of the time. This was a very pure, abstract trip. I'd love to know who designed it.
TW: WHAT WOULD YOU PICK AS ONE OF TUCSON'S BEST MURALS?
Outside of Joy Fox's and my own at the UA Health Sciences Library (he says with a laugh), I really like the old Farmer John mural, on the wall along Grant Road. I remember seeing it in 1959, when I first came to Tucson. I worked as a cowboy on dude ranches in Colorado, so I belonged to the old ranching world of Arizona and Colorado in my youth. The clouds, the accuracy of the cows, the scope of the thing--to keep it running all the way around that wall for miles and miles--and the consistent style...those are not easy things to do. And then all of that, hiding a packing plant!
TW: WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE COTTONWOOD CAF&EACUTE;, OTHER THAN THAT YOUR WORK IS ALL OVER THE WALLS?
I got involved with that place because the architect, Paul Weiner--a friend of mine--introduced me to Norma and Craig Gillespie. She's the cook, he's the owner. I had always liked that place when it was the Lunt Avenue Marble Club; it used to be all full of stained glass and Tiffany lamps, old booths, and pitch black...and boozy, very boozy. They opened it up and they had some good advice: There's 28 big date palms that are probably 80 or 90 years old, which form the heart of their eating area outside. The food's great, and they used my art every place. And they have no condiments on the table. That's pretty cocky!