The Color Couple: Gary Lang and Ruth Pastine

Gary Lang and Ruth Pastine

Two artists are much more complicated than one. Yet, some of the world's most amazing love stories are when artists fall in love. It's like two powerful storms colliding and growing in size together -- beautiful and, perhaps, terrifying. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner; Ray and Charles Eames; Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz; Barry McGee and Margaret Killgallen; Jeanne-Claude and Christo. Gary Lang and Ruth Pastine are an artist couple in today's contemporary art world. The Ojai couple met in New York in late 1989, and have been a powerhouse of talent, love and partnership ever since.

Lang and Pastine are both abstract painters, with practices that revolve around color theory and the study of time, though their work is very different. Nestled in the hills of Ojai, a small creative community just north of Ventura and east of Santa Barbara, one property houses two studios that pulse and reverberate with color and sound, separate from one another, but feeding off of the shared energy inherent in the artists and their bond together.

"CIRCLES/WORDS" at Ace Gallery, Beverly Hills.

Lang, a native Angeleno, is known for his bright and aggressive painted circles. Giant, all-encompassing targets for concentration and time, these monumental circles are intense vibrations of color and almost psychedelic in their nature. Lang's work is currently on display at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills, in an exhibition titled "CIRCLES/WORDS." This show is the first major incorporation of Lang's word-paintings, though he has been creating word paintings alongside his well-known circle-works since the '70s. "I pluck these words from my mind and the world and consign them to paper, I've been doing this ever since the seventies. It seems they have a presence in my art realm, and they may well have significance for other people," he explains. "The Circles and Words seem so contradictory -- you know? The words are the stuff of struggling souls. This is what we live with as humans. There's a gravity to it. All the things we feel and witness in ourselves and others. And then there's the circles that approximate the heavens, and finesse the here and now--the glory of being. I'm really proud of this show," Lang says.

The circles and words seem so oppositional, but Lang attributes the differences in the work to finding balance in life and in art. "I feel like it's important to not just to have one-sided propaganda, but to give as much as you can, to be as much as you are. So, I'm trying to evaluate myself as I work, and the work reflects that -- the stuff of people, the stuff of apparitions. It's like both sides of Jacob's ladder," he says.

"CIRCLES/WORDS" at Ace Gallery.

"This show provokes contemplation. This circle project is about being present. If there's a high water mark to this show, I would say, it finesses presence, it's a break from the chatter, it's a pause, and it's an opportunity for self reflection," Lang says.

The space at Ace Gallery feels more like a cathedral in Europe than an art gallery in Los Angeles, according to writer David Pagel. Many other critics have agreed that this new work and exhibition has a transcendent nature, imbedded in the soul of the artwork.
"You have to understand, I was doing this before I even knew it was artwork," Lang says. "I remember when I was young... I wanted to hold on to these extraordinary moments and feelings. I wanted to arrest magic -- I am embracing sensations and the poetics of contradiction, and I want to bring it to the table, it's just my nature."

Ruth Pastine. | Photo: Gary Lang.

Ruth Pastine, Lang's wife and artistic counterpart, makes large scale, exploratory color paintings that also resemble a kind of spirituality, reverberation and intensity. Lang says, "We are interested in -- metaphysically and philosophically -- very similar things; we come about it from opposite angles, but we probably share the same god, I would say."

Pastine, originally from New York, just closed her first solo museum survey exhibition at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, curated by Andi Campognone. A monumental contemporary space, "Attraction: 1993-2013" was an exhibition comprised of pivotal works from the past twenty years of Pastine's artwork, including pieces from many different series and styles. She now prepares for two solo exhibitions in her near future. One solo show coming up in September at Brian Gross Fine Art in San Francisco, and another in March of 2015, at the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard.

Ruth Pastine "ATTRACTION: 1993-2013" installation at MOAH.

Red Green 1-S48 (Red Magenta), Interplay Series, 2013.

Her paintings are meticulous adventures in color, and wrap you in a warm blanket of color and energy as you stand in their monumental presence. Unlike Lang's aggressive circles, Pastine's work often open themselves up to the viewer, like a gateway of color gradation, gradually shifting and vibrating uniquely for each viewer. "I approach each layer as a complete layer; it's a constant and continuous surface," she explains. "My paintings appear as a subtle differentiation between complementary colors, even though they were composed of numerous colors. Maybe you can identify a few colors within the painting, and that is the intention, to be liberated from preconceived notions about the visual experience, to be in the present moment of discovery, to experience the optical, luminous light of the painting emerging from the subtlety and nuance of the color shifts."

Ruth in her studio. | Photo: Eric Minh Swenson.

Scale is important to Pastine. Not unlike Mark Rothko's affinity for that monumental feeling in large blocks of color, Pastine feels that scale size matters a great deal in her work. "I think it's difficult to translate how scale has a lot to do with how you experience something. It can be more enveloping," she says. "With my recent work, because of the larger scale, they really have a very intense visceral presence. You can feel how your body is in relationship to these paintings, it's not only optical and perceptual, but it's also very visceral."

Like Lang, Pastine always works serially, exploring every possible harmonious and cacophonous chord that reveals itself to her, in theme. She spends no less than a year on any given series, and her relationship with Lang is a strong presence in her practice as well. "It's very special to be able to call in a colleague that you trust, and somebody that you love so much and have a conversation about what you're striving for in the work, and we have that dialogue right here," she says. "It's become essential and because I've had it for so much of my life, I couldn't imagine not having it."

MOAH Curator Andi Campognone with Gary Lang, Ruth Pastine and their daughter Sage in their home.

Ruth Pastine. | Photo: Eric Minh Swenson.

Having been married 20 years, Lang and Pastine both remember the intensity, attraction and admiration they immediately felt for one another when they met in 1989. "I remember when I first met her; we were working together on a project," Lang recalls. "She assisted me on a site-specific painting. We were just crazy about each other. We were working on this 13-foot circle on a wall, and we don't know each other that well; we were -- without talking -- seamlessly working together like a precision instrument. That's when we know each other the most. The rest of life, that's when it gets tough. But when we work together, its poetry. I feel very lucky... most of the time."

Portrait of Gary Lang and Ruth Pastine in front of their studios. | Photo: Christy Sisneros.

"I remember thinking, 'I'm taking notice of this moment,'" Pastine says. "It's certain there was something very strong about meeting that evening. What bonded us actually, was working together. It was pretty obvious -- the chemistry, the romance, and the relationship of both of us being working artists. I think we did three site-specific projects for Gary together, and it was seamless. When you're working, the conversation is very fluid, because you're working toward an ideal together; it was a very natural way to meet. I think people knew immediately where this was heading. [Laughs.] Both of us are workaholics, and it was a very inspiring way to get to know someone, working on meaningful projects together."

Ruth Pastine's Ray Painting #5, Ray Painting Series, 1997.

Gary Lang and crew installing at MOAH. | Photo: Eric Minh Swenson.

"I would say that we've accomplished a real good balance domestically," Lang adds.
Lang and Pastine live and work in Ojai now, raising their children Chance (16 years old) and Sage (12 years old), and keep their separate studios open to their supportive relationship and intuition. "It's almost oxymoronic and a paradox," Pastine says, "that two artists can raise children, because children need everything, and art needs everything, and a relationship needs everything... But, I have to say, it's the love and the passion you dedicate to your work -- I've been dedicated to my work for over 40 years, so that passion feels limitless. So, of course you bring that intensity into your romantic relationship and then into your children. I must say though, it's a great thing that I'm an excellent multi-tasker."

Ruth Pastine and Gary Lang. | Photo: Eric Minh Swenson.

"Ruth is probably the hardest worker I've ever met in my entire life," Lang says. "One of the things that attracts me to her so profoundly is her work ethic," Lang says. "I love the way she works. She is so attuned to her needs and she's so focused. She's really unstoppable. She's a force of nature. It's not always a day at the beach, but I admire her and respect her, and that matters in tough times."

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"It's pretty rare to have the relationship we have," Pastine adds, "the uncertainty of both of us facing our futures is unknown as self-employed artists and then bringing two children into the mix, so we're pretty focused."

Though Lang and Pastine rarely show their work together, this powerhouse Ojai couple never stop working, and seem to create a dialogue between their work without even knowing it. Their 20-year partnership has blossomed -- not only into two children and a beautiful life in sunny California -- into a dichotomy of color and vibration, each with its own purpose and intention. Both arresting magic and exploring humanity through time, emotion and color.

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Top image: Gary Lang and Ruth Pastine.

About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly, Culture Magazine, and Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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