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Seduced by the Subcontinent

Author: Rina Saeed Khan      Publications: Friday Times– Review (p- 11)      Dated: 8 July 1992

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“I really love the subcontinent,” says Rusty Crump with a smile as he ushers us into his lounge. Sipping iced tea and munching brownies while we discuss contemporary art, I feel as if Im in college in the US again — well, almost. One cannot help noticing the colourful paper horses on the mantel piece, the flower-print cushions, and the gaudy commercial prints of film stars displayed on a shelf — its a pleasing reminder that it is the rich, vibrant colour of the subcontinent that so many westerners find attractive.

Rusty is an American and professor from Boston who is currently teaching printmaking at the National College of Arts, Lahore. Cheerful and laid back, Rusty is that eternal optimist who puts you at ease without any effort. “My real name is Walter”, he laughs, “My mother thought ld have red hair for some reason so she called me Rusty”. There are no complaints of the heat, the dust or the regular power failures from this foreign visitor. Rusty seems to regard it a privilege to be able to live here and his enthusiasm and affection for this place is boundless.

Fifty-year-old Rusty was awarded a Full- bright scholarship to come to Pakistan and he has been living in Lahore since last September. He decided to apply for the giant after running into Zahur-ul-Aklaq in the States. Along with his Iranian wife, Shahla, Rusty has liked living here so much that he has now extended his grant for one more year. Although he and wife had visited India before, it was their first time in Pakistan. “I had no idea what to expect — my first impression was total confusion.”

Rusty arrived a month late, since “No one seemed to have any idea when NCA would open”. When he finally arrived and went to college in the morning at 8:30, there was no one around. But Rusty seems to have adjusted to the Pakistani system quite well. He currently teaches printmaking techniques like intaglio and calligraphy, along with working on his prints. He is full of praise for NCA. “l find it a very interesting place to teach in. The students are wonderful. Theyre bright, creative and dedicated. They are also very eager for information. Back in the States I used to resent teaching at times, but here Ive realised that if is very central no my work.”

In the US, Rusty has been regularly exhibiting his prints since 1973. He has won several awards and his work hangs in prestigious collections like the National Museum of American Art, DC and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Commenting on the  contemporary an scene in the west, he says “Western and has become so diverse in the past ten years, with so many outside influences that these days almost anything goes. ln Soho, you can find galleries with anything from super-realism work to paintings with sociological meaning. There is a lot of play in the contemporary art world on what is tradition, what is still important. A huge concern is whether the individual artist is any longer important in this age of consumerism?”

Confessing to be an “old-fashioned artist” himself, with his emphasis on visual quality and texture, Rusty is somewhat critical of art becoming too conceptual — “then the play of ideas becomes more important than the actual piece of art that the viewer can see”. Rusty finds, however, that there is no such problem in Pakistan, where most artists are more worried about now a painting looks.

Rusty admits that he had no idea of the art scene in this country before his arrival. But far from being disappointed he says “For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised”. Asked which- artists have made the most impact on him; he says “Ive been impressed by Anwar Saeed and Afshars work. Jamal Shahs work has also influenced me. I also like Zahur-ul-Aklaq and Qudus Mirzas work. I think Im attracted to what I cant do and what others do well. For instance, I admire the spontaneous, child-like quality of Quduss work.”

So what is quality art, from Rustys point of view? “Unlike reading, viewing art is not a linear activity. You take it in all at once. If its good, it gives you more information the longer you view it. You can have an interesting dialogue with it”. That is exactly the feeling one gets about Rustys own work. His finely detailed prints with their wonderful textures and delicate colouring, not to mention the powerful imagery are in a class of their own — one that a dedicated artist reaches after constantly evolving through years of sincere, honest work untainted by commercial considerations.