Meet Ken R.

Fine Arts student

“I think Hudson Valley plays a large part in the improvement my art has seen over the past four years.”

For two-time Hudson Valley graduate and current Fine Arts student Ken Rutsky, art is more than a job or a hobby. It’s a way of life.

The 46-year-old earned his first Hudson Valley degree in 2000, an AA in Liberal Arts, and went on to get his bachelor’s degree in writing. Though he’s always enjoyed visual arts, he spent the next decade pursuing other creative endeavors, mostly music and writing. Then, about ten years ago, a series of life changes led him back to his earlier passion for painting—and back to Hudson Valley in the process.

“My marriage ended, my band ended, and I finally shelved the novel I’d been picking at since my mid-20s,” Ken explains. “I was disillusioned with music, couldn’t write. I needed a new outlet, so I started drawing. After a year of that, I bought a set of acrylic paints and I was off to the races.”

His first round of studies at Hudson Valley had gone well, so he decided to come back to pursue an A.S. in Fine Arts to keep developing his rekindled passion for painting. “I chose this school the first time because everyone I talked to had good things to say about it, and I could afford to pay for that first semester out of pocket,” he says. “I loved the experience so much that, when I decided to re-return to school a few years ago, there was no question whether I’d make my re-restart at Hudson Valley or not.”

The second round went well, too—so well, in fact, that after he graduated with his A.S. in Fine Arts in 2021, he decided to further hone his skills by enrolling in the college’s advanced study course in drawing and painting. The decision paid dividends in both art and accolades.

“My time in the art program here – two years for the degree, followed by two years in the advanced course – has had a profound impact on me and my art,” he says. “The students here are super talented and have inspired me to do my best to keep up with them. I’ve made some good friends here, despite the age difference. Classes have all been challenging, teaching not only basic skills, but introducing me to new artists or concepts I’d never have found on my own. I think Hudson Valley plays a large part in the improvement my art has seen over the past four years—and in my humble opinion, it’s seen a LOT.”

Designed for students who’ve completed foundation fine arts courses and wish to pursue their own body of work, the advanced study course Ken enrolled in includes two semesters of guided study in drawing and painting, taught by Fine Arts Professor Thomas Lail—who, as it turned out, would inspire Ken even further in his creative career. It was Professor Lail’s encouragement that led him to submit one of the paintings he created during the course, “Hiding in Plain Sight,” to the annual Best of SUNY Arts Exhibition this spring. He was one of three students from SUNY’s 64 campuses to win a “Best of SUNY” award for his work. Though he’s been selling and showing his art since 2020, he says he was surprised—and thrilled—to get the news.

“I chose my final painting from my first year in the advanced course because it worked coherently on a lot of levels in a way nothing I’d done before really had. Almost everything about the painting, from the title to the aspect ratio of the canvas to the clothing and poses of the subject figures, has a significance that relates to the painting’s theme,” he explains of his award-winning piece.

“Hiding in Plain Sight” is an example of how Ken’s art has evolved: these days, he says, he’s into representational art, mostly architectural or figurative, using oil or acrylic paint as his medium of choice. But his inspiration runs deeper than paint on canvas: it comes from lived experiences, and a unique way of viewing the world.

“Most of my paintings depict the people and places I see as I live and work my life away. They’re rooted in a deep love I have for the Capital Region, in that I try to include things that locals would recognize… not so much the monuments or symbolic buildings, but more the places people move through on their way from point A to point B,” Ken explains. “You can see every possible scene from every possible story in those places. My paintings come from snapshots I take when I see one of those scenes and realize I’m seeing it in time to capture it.”

Now, Ken is wrapping up his advanced study course, but has no plans to leave the classroom or the studio for good. He’d like to go on to graduate school, to keep a community around him, and to further develop his art conceptually. He’s just had his first solo show at a local gallery, and, he says, he hopes it’s the first of many. He is finally, after all, living his dream.

“I’m rapidly closing on 47. It’s only recently, and with the indispensable help and urging of my partner, Shannon, that I found the courage to pursue a life I’ve always dreamed of leading,” he says. “I was very unhappy for years – decades! – trying to live like I thought I was expected to live, and I realize now how counterproductive that was. I learned after too many years that I’m not the type who thrives in an office environment, and after years of self-doubt I’m ready to take on the challenge of making a life in the arts, whatever form that might take.”

Ken’s unique experiences have left him with some wisdom to share with students just starting out. “I’d like every student who reads this to know that you should live the life that’s for you, not the one that most everyone tells you to live,” he says. “Happiness is worth a lot more than money in the long run.”