by John & Caroline Rufo
John and Caroline Rufo are visual artists living in the suburbs of Boston. Balancing marriage, parenting, an architecture firm, and an art education career, they share a studio and show their work in galleries along the eastern seaboard. Here they share a bit about their story and processes:
Caroline: We met at Rhode Island School of Design in 1985. John was studying architecture, and I was studying graphic design. We were friends for the first several years, and it wasn’t until I returned from working in New York and John from studying in Rome that we actually fell in love.
The 1990s were building years for us. I went back for a Masters degree at Mass Art. John waited out the recession working as a percussionist and drummer for a band. Eventually, I settled into a career in graphic design and John in architecture. By 2000, we had bought a house and started a family. I continued my fine art career, showing in juried shows and with an artists’ collaborative I had formed at Mass Art. Over time, I encouraged John to return to drawing and painting. We transformed one room of our house into a shared studio.
John: The studio in our house is a very safe place to make art and to ask for and receive feedback from each other. Most weekend days start around 6:00 AM working on something before the kids get up. In a certain way, it’s a part time activity because we need our day jobs, but it’s also on our minds in a full time way that keeps us inspired and tinkering at the edges when we can’t make the time to dive in fully.
Caroline: In 2011, I made a career change that had been in the works for some time. I had left a corporate design job for a freelance career while the kids were small. Working at home allowed me to further develop my painting, and I began offering classes to adults and children. In 2011, I became the art teacher at Ursuline Academy in Dedham.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The kids were growing more independent, and just six months earlier John had opened an architecture firm in Newton. It was really nice to have a steady paycheck again, especially with John and his partners opening the new company. But I was also ready for a fresh challenge. Teaching keeps me closer to the fundamentals of making artwork, and I just love my students.
We both credit the foundation in drawing and design thinking we got at RISD for our ability to be flexible in the work force and transform our careers. I think it also gave us a common vocabulary and understanding of how to make art. Even though my work is rooted in ideas from John Cage to Artificial Intelligence, and John is working with abstracting light and landscape, we can speak each other’s language and really help each other in the studio.
Our kids (two girls, now in high school) see our togetherness in the studio, and I think they absorb the potential of a couple, both independent thinkers, who can be quite close in their day to day processes as artists and parents. They usually attend our art openings and have met several of the gallery owners where we show on a regular basis. They also have the chance to see what a truly supportive relationship looks like. For example, a couple of years ago, I began a performance collaboration with some artists in Boston. It took me away from the house in the evenings and filled my mind for the better part of six months. Thank goodness John understood how important it was for my artistic development. He did everything to help me bring the project to fruition. One of our daughters actually ended up being in the performance! When the tables are turned, and he has a great opportunity, I do the same!
John: We’ve shown our work together several times in “husband and wife” shows. Most recently we had an exhibit called “Shared Spaces” at the Page Waterman Gallery in Wellesley. In that show, we investigated the way the formal aspects of our work relate to each other and how our processes inform each other. While we don’t collaborate directly on individual pieces, through shared critique and a little osmosis, our work alternately overlaps and diverges again and again.
We see art making as a way to continue to grow over a lifetime. That growth was challenged a few years back when I suffered a stress-induced back injury. To address my unhealthy stress, we began a daily practice of meditation and then, eventually, added Tai Chi. We needed to make a change to help balance career demands, life events, parenthood, and art making. It turns out, however, that the art is as integral to achieving a daily balance as the meditation and Tai Chi. I once read that when William Wegman stopped photographing his dogs, they began to get irritable and even nipped or bit a few people, which was totally uncharacteristic of them. It’s like that for me. If I don’t at least draw a little or sketch on a regular basis, I get a little nippy.
Caroline: I also find that the meditation feeds my studio practice. I feel less bogged down by interrupting thoughts and mundane stresses when I mediate or do Tai Chi. They prepare me to be creative, and the studio work develops my intellect and creativity
John: Eventually, we’d like the pendulum to swing the other way in the career equation: that is, we’d like art making to be the dominant portion of our time and have our jobs in teaching art and practicing architecture take up less of our everyday. That’s sort of the semi-retirement plan. I’d like to stop doing the architecture eventually so that I don’t just die at my desk one day. But I never want to stop making art. It’s like breathing to me. It’s a fundamental piece of being happy. §
Caroline Rufo has always been interested in fine art, education, and information design. She teaches art and design at Ursuline Academy in Dedham, MA. She is represented by the Bowersock Gallery in Provincetown, MA and Mount Dora, FL; Studio Hop in Providence, RI; The Page Waterman Gallery in Wellesley, MA; and The Copley Society in Boston. Learn more about her work at rufoart.net.
John Rufo works in architectural practice in Boston as he continues to evolve his approach to the creation of fine art in the media of oils, gauche, ink, mixed-media, and pastels. His fine art appears in many private collections and galleries throughout New England, the United States, Europe and Australia. For more information about his work, visit rufoart.net.