| Michael Rouillard, 2003
According to Michael Rouillard, doubt is the feeling that pushes you to try again. And although he has been involved in making art since he was a child attending classes at the Maryland Institute, Rouillard never seems to run out of questions that start with "What if..." or "Could this..." or "What would happen if...." The result of his unquenchable curiosity is a body of work that ranges from large architectural installations to small prints, from semi-sculptural pieces to paintings in different media.
Rouillard believes in going where the work leads him and only then finding the appropriate medium for what he wants to achieve. As an example, he recalls changing from sheet metal to aluminum when the size of the work made the original material too heavy to hang. Once he is involved with the materials, they may in turn lead him to change his initial idea about the work, setting up an interplay between idea and medium that ultimately produces highly original, evocative combinations of form and materials.
This interplay reflects a deeper conviction that theory or philosophy must be paired with respect for and knowledge of the hands-on aspect of making art. His background reflects both these interests. As an undergraduate he studied Art History and Philosophy; when he began making architectural pieces, he worked construction as a way of sharpening his skills and gaining familiarity with materials. As Rouillard puts it, a strong theoretical background "makes you able to think not just about the latest thing -- it makes you realize that you're part of a certain tradition." He values the ability to think and talk about cross-fertilization and adds with a laugh that "it calms you down a bit." His in-depth experience with materials and construction techniques, on the other hand, allows him exceptional flexibility and a wide range of options.
Rouillard's willingness to explore and his heterogeneous background are also reflected in the diversity of influences he cites, ranging from anonymous late Medieval panel painters through the 20th Century non-objective tradition (Mondrian, Malevich, Newman, Ryman, Rothko) to the Light and Space movement and architecturally-oriented artists such as Irwin and Turrell. The wide variety of his sources of inspiration have given Rouillard's work an entirely original stamp and have helped him avoid being categorized, or "put in a box," as he puts it. He notes that his layered paintings are technically very flat sculpture, but that he is still involved with painting issues such as surface, line, composition and color. And while he acknowledges the similarity of his interest in materials to that of the minimalists, he is careful to point out that his approach to those materials is quite different from the directness of the minimalist tradition.
Although Rouillard claims never to stay satisfied with his work, the viewer can only be grateful that this relentless urge to explore keeps him producing the elegant, nuanced works for which he is known. Simple and complex, innovative and grounded, thought-provoking and sensuous -- Rouillard's work can be seen as the melding of diverse traditions into an entirely individual expression of an exceptional aesthetic.