Churning out everything from huggable seahorses to 6 by 7 foot acrylic chandeliers, Dorchester's Shane Ruff epitomizes the new breed of artists who have both the creativity to produce a wide variety of public-pleasing works and the skills to get their goods seen and sold.
Though he still does consulting for about a half dozen clients he kept from his former career as a full-time corporate event-planner, the Ashmont Hill resident is spending more time these days designing, hand-making, promoting and selling his growing line of home furnishings.
"I know the value of marketing, of being an artist who dresses in business attire at times to promote your work," said Ruff. "I also know that to survive in these times, you have to be very diverse, and have as many irons in the fire as you can."
Few other local artists can rival the breadth of Ruff's product line or the ubiquity of his product placement. Two current displays in Dorchester evince his versatility.
A more formal exhibition at the Pearl Street Studios Gallery (of which he is a member) showcases his drawings, paintings, silk-screens and signature rugs. Though Ruff has been hand-tying rugs for about six years, about 18 months ago he discovered EcoSpun fabrics produced by Draper Knitting Company in Canton. EcoSpun fabrics, made entirely from recycled plastic bottles, come in both subdued and startling colors. Most of his rugs are two by three or four feet in diameter, but he's currently working on a nine by twelve foot commissioned floor covering in lime green and white.
Samples of other brisk-selling items fill the window of a vacant retail space in the Carruth Building. Virtually all the pieces there bespeak his passion and gift for transforming discarded materials into something beautiful. The green consciousness that informs the collection stems not from a desire to cash in on a current vogue, but from a sensibility that has characterized his work since his teenage years in the 80s.
The most striking (but perhaps least politically correct) work is an example of his mirrors lined with real fur. The trim comes from a scrap fur outlet in Pennsylvania.
Two occasional tables exemplify his lifelong practice of building from scratch, using found materials. The pieces have a unique look and feel because they are studded with funky metal bottle caps, which he and friends in places like the Ashmont Grill collect and recycle in this way.
The window also features samples of his Earth-Friendly Creatures, a line of simple, whimsical stuffed animals which some have likened to the uglydolls brand. His first efforts in this area were the Dot Bears he created in order to raise funds for Aids Action, shortly after two friends were diagnosed with HIV. More recent designs include two different rabbits, a seahorse, a fox and Bad Boy, an impish Halloween-time creation, all available in a range of EcoSpun colors.
Finally, the lighting fixture in the Carruth window represents a new material and new direction he's exploring. Crisscrossing laths, which he found in his basement left over from some long-past wall renovation, decorate the fixture and cast light on where he's headed next.
"I don't like to be tied to any one style, medium, or process which is why my work seems to have a very diverse look and feel," Ruff said. "To me this diversity is part of my creative process and my own personal artistic exploration. Each of my works has strong meaning to me and reveals a moment in my path of this journey of artistic expression."
The public is invited to meet Ruff at the opening reception at the Pearl Street Gallery this coming Saturday, March 14 from 6-9 p.m. He regrets his website (ruffstudio.com) is a little outdated, but has fresher posts on ruffstudio.blogspot.com and his Facebook page.