Ben's Lens: An Interview with RJ Rushmore

Ben's Lens: An Interview with RJ Rushmore

March 18, 2020

First, My Dirty Thirty

Before we get into it, my 30th birthday was yesterday. Turning thirty was terrible. Now I’m old and out of touch, but due to COVID-19 I had no friends or family to spend the day with. I thought thirty would be this climactic experience, and instead I didn’t leave my house. I did fry an egg all the way for my breakfast sandwich which was exciting (and rare). I ate some leftover chicken Alfredo I cooked the other night (another rarity, for me to cook). I received so many messages and calls from friends and family all over, which made lockdown a little more bearable. 

Onto the Interview

RJ Rushmore is a friend of mine that I met while living in Vail during the last few years. It can be hard to make friends as an adult, and for me it’s especially challenging living in such a remote area. Most of my friends live around the country or internationally, and very few of them actually live near me. RJ lives in New York and we try to connect whenever I’m there or on his regular visits to Vail. 

I spend most of my time engaging with people involved in the glass industry; pipe makers, collectors, shop and gallery owners, and other peripheral artists to the scene. It’s rare that I’m able to share this dialogue beyond our scene, but I’m always looking for opportunities to do so and expand the reach of the movement. When I was introduced to RJ’s family by mutual friends, I was able to learn about his role in the art world and our overlapping interests. 

RJ graciously traded me some prints from his personal collection for a pair of my first wine glasses. One of those prints by MOMO (@momoshowpalace) I gifted to my brother. The other by Jim Houser remains in my personal collection and hangs on the wall in my office. 

I highly appreciate the ongoing dialogue I have with RJ about art and life. He’s an incredible resource of knowledge on graffiti and contemporary art, so I asked him if he would share some insight with the Drinking Vessels audience. 

BB: We met a few years ago in NYC after I met your folks in Vail and they connected us. I’m so glad they did. Why don’t you tell our audience a little bit about who you are and your role in the world of art.
RJ: For about the last decade, I have been obsessed in art in public spaces. That interest started with street art and graffiti, and expanded to any sort of artistic or design work in public space, and also how people move through public space. For many years, I ran a street art blog called Vandalog, and that grew into curating exhibitions, and producing and curating public art (including co-founding The L.I.S.A. Project NYC and working at a few public art non-profits). Lately, I've been focused on writing for Hyperallergic and co-curating Art in Ad Places.

Art In Ad Places is an incredible project you produced. Could you share what that’s about with our readers?
Thank you. NYC still has pay phones across all five boroughs. Why? Many of them don't work, and of course they are hardly ever used. They still exist because they are mini-billboards. Which is pretty annoying, at least that's my experience of seeing a glut of ads for breast augmentation surgery when I'm just trying to walk down the street. It turns out that the billboards are quite easy to replace with... well whatever you feel like. To unlock the frame that the ads are installed it, you just need a special screwdriver that you can buy online. So, since 2017, Art in Ad Places has worked with nearly 100 artists to replace those ads with cutting-edge artworks.

Obviously you and I have different areas of focus in the art world. Your passionate about street art, graffiti, and contemporary art, and published a comprehensive history book on the subject. The initial reason we were introduced was because of the overlap between street art and pipe art. What kind of similarities and differences have you uncovered since we began our dialogue?
When I came across Slinger's Degenerate Art documentary, which was my introduction to glass art, I was completely floored. Pipe artists have so many parallels to graffiti writers: they are counter-cultural but often desire to break into the mainstream, they mix art and design, they operate in a legal grey area, they are taught through an apprenticeship program that runs parallel to more official training channels, they are generally dismissed by their more less subversive contemporaries... And all of those factors have led to these subcultures where extremely talented makers fly below the radar. The big difference that I have seen is that graffiti does not have an obvious commercial angle, whereas pipe makers are of course trying to sell pipes. Although some graffiti writers sell their work in galleries, and others do graphic design work or tattoos, there is not inherently an object for sale (and it's cheaper to tag a wall than blow glass).

Which glass artists stand out to you?
Personally, I am a huge fan of folks like Salt, Kiva Ford, and Scotty Mickle. I think Mickle's decanters are pretty much the most interesting drink-related objects that you can have in your house.

Which glass artists were you familiar with before we met?
When I first saw Slinger's film, he and I were both living in Philadelphia. That was a fantastic coincidence, so I reached out and we met up once or twice. It was very generous with his time and educated me a bit on pipes, but that was about it. If the artist wasn't featured in Degenerate Art or making work at Slinger's studio, they were not on my radar. And then we met and you opened up a bunch of new doors for me.

You’ve visited my studio on a few occasions, which is an evolving project. How would you compare your experience in my glass studio with other studios you're familiar with?
Your studio strikes a really wonderful balance between active work space, a place to chill, and a place to display finished products, without feeling like a traditional retail shop. You're selling products that sometimes require a bit of education, and you've built a studio really well-suited to building community and educating folks in a low-pressure way.

Next time you’re out in Vail I’d love to make some time to let you melt some glass. We’re also overdue for some laps on the hill together, but one of these days timing will work out.
I know where my strengths are, so I tend to leave the art-making to the artists, but I'd love to give it a shot.

Which of the murals in my studio stand out to you?
I'm a real nerd, so in a place like your studio, where there are people coming and going all the time, stickers tend to be more interesting to me than murals. You have a great collection of stickers, and each one leads to the question "How did that get here?" Was it put there by you, a visitor, a friend, or the artist themselves? How does each sticker relate to the ones around it? There's just something personal and unique about any collection of stickers that I find fascinating.

What are your thoughts on functional art?
Every object we interact with should be well-designed, even a work of art. It just makes life more pleasant and interesting. Why have a boring cup or plate or lamp? As Marie Kondo asks, "Does it spark joy?"

How’s your cup collection?
The highlights are definitely the two wine glasses that you made, as well as a pint glass made by L'Amour Supreme and Zach Puchowitz. And then I have a collection of mugs. Nothing too fancy, but each one means a lot to me. There's one mug, which I've had for nearly a decade, that I've continued to use even though the handle has broken off. Tea in that mug got me through college. How could I let it go?

Do you have a favorite piece on my site?
As a nerd who loves both mugs and caffeine, Dan Hoffman's caffeine composition molecule mug is very me. But, if I have to pick one piece, I think Kim Thomas' serum denture shot glass is amazing. Shot glasses should be strange and fun, and reserved for special occasions. Thomas' piece is exactly that.

Whose art work has you captivated currently? Any up and comers?
Right now, I'm anxiously awaiting the up and comers who are going to get active as soon as the presidential race is a bit further along. I'm fascinated by political campaign art, and there are always relatively unknown artists who come out of nowhere with something unexpected. So that should get exciting soon.

What are you currently working on?
Last year, I had the honor of writing the introduction to ROA Codex, a book chronicling the murals of one of my favorite artists. The book was just released in the states, so although my work on that wrapped up a while ago, it's been nice to take a moment to finally sit down with the finished product and just enjoy that.

You can learn more about RJ and his projects:
Instagram: @rjrushmore @artinadplaces

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