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Shelly Rusten – Artist

“Only that something might emerge that is larger than my intentions for the work…”

Born in 1938 in Boston, Mass, I began my Artist life as a Jazz Drummer in the mid 50s that was the heyday of that music which was a primary inspiration for the Beat Generation.  Arriving in NYC in 65 as an early pioneer of the Jazz Avant Garde I met Artists in other mediums and was encouraged to try my hand at Photography, a medium I had begun a rudimentary relationship to while in the US Army in 61-63.  As I conceived of it before any formal education, Photography functions as a form of Visual Poetry and I continue to work at it in that way regardless of the trends.

By 1970 my work had been published by almost every major Book Company and major Magazine in America, my most profound media triumph the making of ‘Crowd at Woodstock 1969’ which image was made famous by its usage by Warner Bros as the centerpiece for their ads for the movie, most prominently as a 4 x 5 foot Poster that appeared on every available wall and bus from NY to Rangoon for over 10 years running, making it without doubt the most widely and best seen Photograph of all time.  More important is that this image represents the ultimate Portrait of the Class of 69 and as such a summation of the 60s itself.  

Primarily interested in the doing of Art I backed away from commercial Freelancing in the early 70s and after brief study with the great Lisette Model who was also mentor for Dianne Arbus, I began Teaching myself, first at the New School and then the School of Visual Arts until 1985. While at SVA I purchased a home in the Upper Delaware Valley of NY which inspired what became the most successful  work of my career—entitled ‘Rural Considerations’, it depicts a personal experience of what was to me then a brand new world after a lifetime as a City Boy Artist and said experience as much metaphysical as grounded in physical fact. What began in the interest of picturing everything evolved to a new awareness of Photography’s ability to record not just fact but the workings of the human Soul itself. 

Rural attained the profound validation of what was supposedly the largest grant ever awarded a Photographer by the NY State Council on the Arts in 89 and in 93 acceptance of images to the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art by Peter Galassi, whose scholarship I greatly respect.

At this juncture I have returned to the City Street where I began in the 60s and where the pulse of society can best be discerned, this new work also representing my embrace of the Digital revolution that has made it possible to work in Color as easily as B/W and rendered all previous processes obsolete. At long last Photographer Artists are Free to concentrate on ART itself as opposed to endless post conception labor in the toxic environment of the traditional Darkroom.

Art is not about such mundane labor or technique but about CONCEPT and VISION and this the essence of it as proclaimed by Marcel Duchamp who revolutionized our understandings and established the guidelines for all more serious Art to follow. Art is not even about a given Medium for that matter but ideally understood as beyond such medium specificity. Art is Philosophy and the realm of Ideas, the perception of existence in Form and Space. Art exists in the SOUL of an Artist. The ARTIST IS the ART…

Shelly Rusten, Hankins, NY

***Of course my Soul is NOT For Sale, it’s only my tangible produce that can be purchased…