When you think of watercolors, you may think of pretty, innocuous landscapes. Kim Russo (head of the fine arts department at Ringling College of Art and Design) plays on that expectation with her works in watercolor and graphite on paper. While there is beauty in her technique, it’s wedded to subject matter that often includes catastrophes, such as plane crashes or houses on fire. It’s the fractured nature of that pairing—leavened by a layer of humor—that Russo loves to explore.
"Watercolor was not very interesting to me," Russo, 47, confesses, "until four or five years ago, when I recognized that I wanted to talk about the perplexing juxtaposition of events in contemporary American life—things simultaneously horrifying and funny and beautiful. Everywhere, on the street and in the media culture, you see things that just don’t make sense together. We lead very fractured lives."
You might find in her work a capsized boat being observed by a man in a chicken suit on the dock nearby, or kids too busy playing games to notice that the house they’re in is burning. Russo is anything but random with her odd pairings; she says the biggest compliment she ever received at a show was from a viewer who told her, "You put the perfect things together. You must work really hard at that." In fact, she says, researching the right pictures to transform (she’s a big fan of Google Images) takes her longer than the drawing itself, which she says "is like candy to me. I really love to draw."
A recent transplant from Santa Fe, N.M., where she’ll be featured in a group show at the New Mexico Museum of Art opening Nov. 19 that includes such names as Sol LeWitt and Louise Bourgeois ("I can’t believe I’m hanging with them," she says), Russo lives near the north Siesta Key bridge, where she says the empty-house syndrome of the recent real estate crisis provides food for creative thought.
Featured in a show in October presented by s/ART/q, Russo’s works can be seen at the faculty show this month at Ringling’s Selby Gallery. Or visit her website at kimrusso.net.