Art Transplant: The Clever Illustrator Cornel Rubino compares Baltimore to a Bruegel...and we buy it.


_cpm0968At barely a few minutes after two on a midweek July afternoon, Cornel Rubino has unsurprisingly (for him) laid out a curious early-happy-hour tableau of the Italian liqueur Strega with lighter-than-air Goya pineapple wafers in his surprisingly tidy (for an artist) Woodberry studio. The highbrow/lowbrow culinary combo jibes with his sensibility.

The self-described “painter, drawing installationist and accidental illustrator” works as both a commercial and fine artist. Among his clients: a peck of magazines (The New Yorker, Town & Country), cultural institutions (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Walters Art Museum) and brands, including La Vieille Ferme wine—three posters of his label designs hang in his studio. Among his exhibitions: the drawing installation “The Left as Perceived from the Right/ The Right as Perceived from the Left” at Maryland Art Place in 2007.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rubino earned his undergrad degree at Parsons School of Design in New York, followed by an MFA at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy, where he met his wife, Linda Gravina Ridings, a colorist and painter. The couple settled in Atlanta, where they worked as artists and teachers at the Atlanta College of Art for more than 15 years, before wearying of the city.

They accepted an invitation to visit Baltimore from a pair of ex-Atlantans who’d recently relocated here. Rubino and Gravina Ridings were immediately smitten.

“I thought, ‘This is absolutely wonderful,’” he recalls. “There were people sliding around the streets. There was an aroma that was very tasty. It all reminded me of Bruegel’s painting ‘Netherlandish Proverbs.’ I like the shabby edges, a place where things are not organized very well that makes me feel better about my life. People are less judgmental here; they’re pretty good-natured.”

The couple bought a Charles Village townhouse, dived into producing work and immersed themselves in the city’s cultural life. In 2003, Rubino staged the massive drawing installation “MOBTOWN,” chockablock with depictions of Baltimore’s quotidian quirkiness, that occupied three walls of the Creative Alliance’s main gallery. “It was my Bruegel,” he says, “although nowhere near as beautiful. It was a response to all these things that I thought were going to feed me, and still feed me. It’s the individuals. Just walking down the street, all we do is look.”

“Somewhere between 13 and 90” (actually, 63) Rubino has served as a professor at MICA for 10 years, and during the current academic year is teaching drawing, painting and “Elements of Visual Thinking.”

Most likely, Rubino figures he and Baltimore will remain together until death do they part. “I like Baltimore, plus I don’t know where to go,” he confesses. “This is a fun place, a great place.”

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