Piece of Work: Colin Ruel

“I was influenced by the colors of the ’80s, TV commercials, movies, the colors around me. I’ll look at a painting and think, ‘Oh wow, that was my mother’s comforter.’”

Slowly, hunting and pecking for the right words to describe a process that comes so naturally to him, painter Colin Ruel quotes Beat poet Alan Ginsberg: “First thought, best thought,” as he tries to explain the intimacy of his work. He says it’s the result of instinct, inspiration, and working intuitively.

“I didn’t go to art school, so I didn’t start out thinking things to death. I paint and draw on emotion. My abstracts represent a stream of consciousness. When I get an idea that works,
I’ll follow that flow.”

Gathering Shellfish, Ruel  says, began with the white shapes at the bottom. “To me they represent people in different postures. I see the white shapes near the top as the echo and ripples of the figures floating away.”

Colin Ruel, Gathering Shellfish in the Cove, acrylic on wood panel, 60 x 60 inches.
Colin Ruel

Neither Ruel nor his work can be easily summed up. His similarly inspired but visually very different paintings go from colorful abstracts to atmospheric impressionist landscapes.

The Menemsha native has a long Island history. “My brother Patrick and I were the only two kids running around Menemsha in the winter,” he remembers. By the time he graduated from the regional high school, he was performing music with various groups around the Island. He wound up creating about fifty slam-bam posters for the short-lived entertainment venue Che’s Lounge in Vineyard Haven.

About five years ago, he and his wife, jeweler Nettie Kent (daughter of artist Doug Kent), moved to Brooklyn. He learned about mixing colors by working for artist Holton Rower, best known for his psychedelic “pour paintings.” As he focused on his own paintings, he began showing his work in various galleries around the city.

But if pricked, Ruel would still bleed the Island. The coves, pastures, and dirt roads of Menemsha provide the emotional texture of his work.

And no, he doesn’t miss working as a musician. “The more I got into painting, the more I realized that this was where I was able to complete my thoughts.”