Figurative painter Sam Rueter
Artist Sam Rueter works primarily with acrylics and mixed media. Photo courtesy of S. Rueter.

Growing up just outside of New York City, Sam Rueter discovered her passion for art early in life and credits her father with helping her uncover her talents. After completing her BFA at Marywood University, she spent five years as a teacher before pursuing art full-time. Now an established artist working primarily with acrylics and mixed media, Rueter focuses on highlighting the power of the female form. We sat down with Rueter to find out more about her process, her work and her vision for art in the post-COVID world.

You define your style as both figurative and expressive. What inspires you and what are some of the influences that have shaped your work?

Women, in general, inspire my work and creative process. More specifically, the human experience as a woman. The relationship we have with ourselves is often formulated by the world around us at a young age. The way we subconsciously walk through the world on a tightrope, clinging to perceptions of who we believe we should be. I like to think my work is the journey of flipping these concepts on their head. Reformatting what it means to be a woman and how we validate our own experiences. As I began to own my femininity and shift these negative cultural perspectives; my work became an outlet for healing. Once I became curious about these ideologies, my creative process gave me the permission I was so deeply craving to be a vulnerable, yet compassionate person—toward myself.

The form inspires me the most. The way one holds their body in space is an insight to a larger narrative; an unspoken language. This communication can be a glimpse into our emotional state; a deeper understanding of who we really are. My work becomes an outlet for these very notions, where I allow the models to choose their pose and level of comfort. Everything in this process becomes subjective based on both the viewers’ and models’ experiences. No pose is singular, and they represent a larger pattern in our story. The women I paint allow their bodies to become the medium; giving the viewer a chance to leave with their own perspective and emotion; a process of reflection.

Gracious, painting by Sam Rueter
Acrylic and Pastel on Canvas
Sam Rueter, two female form paintings
Left: Where Do We Go From Here Acrylic on Canvas, 2019.
Right: Luminescense Acrylic and Pastel on Canvas, 2020.

As part of your artist statement, you’ve mentioned that creating figurative work as a woman is about taking back the power of the female form. How has that interest developed for you over time and what are some of the ways you’ve been able to express it?

Women have often been represented as muses in the arts. I remember flipping through my art history texts in college and wondering why 1. All of the nude figurative compositions were female and 2. Why infamous women artists were hardly ever mentioned. As a young 20-something, it’s easy to accept this as normal—alongside the wide range of underrepresentation and sexist undertones of our cultural conditions. It never occurred to me that women had the power to create their own stories. I was too fixated on conforming my viewpoints (and overall achievements) to the box that had been built for me as a young woman—rather than working to break the mold. My art has allowed me to begin this process of unlearning; to dig out all of the distasteful limitations we are born carrying as the female gender. Painting is a very personal form of discovery and healing. Picking up the brush means honoring my journey. As my journey inward blossomed, the passion for my work did as well.

It’s much easier to hide away behind the work. I’ve had some really wonderful connections with artists who have taught me to break free of that—that my voice and story matter.

The women in these compositions are all painted from life; and choose their poses without my interference. This is the most authentic part of the process. I want every woman to be in control of the final composition—to be raw and aligned with her own story. Body movement and pose presents a storyline all in itself, and the goal of my work is to relay this unspoken language—to acknowledge the emotive stories, power and vulnerability within these women.

To be nude is to be vulnerable. And we so often associate nudity with the blatant physical characteristics. While these characteristics aren’t separate from us, they are only a meager part of our feminine experience. I suppose my work can be seen as metaphorical; one where we’re not looking directly at the nude form and calling it as it is. Instead it’s below the surface—a place where we’re asking women to be vulnerable with themselves and share the beauty, trauma, insecurities, capabilities and joy of the feminine experience with others. To present themselves as they really are: all powerful and ever-expanding.

Sam Rueter Bather's Collection Ruby
Acrylic on Canvas

Your new collection, the New Bathers Collection, launched this month. Can you tell us a bit about what inspired it and how it fits into your current work?

Yes, I was excited to share these pieces! I enjoy painting ‘Bathers’ to represent the sweet, everyday moments. Ones that are often overlooked or muddled through due to the hectic nature of daily life. Sipping early morning coffee, enjoying calm moments in a soft robe after a hot shower are all potential moments of meditation and steadiness, if we allow them to be.

This concept has been done by most of our most cherished Masters—it was something I immediately gravitated towards when pursuing my art degree. While studying abroad in London, I saw Cézanne’s work for the first time in person. Something clicked. I decided I would focus my project thesis on the display of female form through history. It was the original creative process that eventually drove me to this point in my work. So these compositions really have come full circle.

Sam Rueter Slash Burn installation
Slash and Burn

In addition to your figurative work, you also work on live installations. What are some of the elements you’re most interested in exploring through installations and how do they complement your other work?

These installations have really come to fruition within the last two years through different opportunities; and they were essential in challenging my process. It’s easy for me to become comfortable once I’ve worked out a consistent step-by-step: from photographing the models to sitting down in front of the canvas. These installations bring much more to the process—building successful sets compositionally, casting models willing to stand in public nearly nude, the natural elements, various mediums of paint—etc. Having the challenge of painting living forms in real time is always exciting. They’ve allowed me to bring the nude human form into existence in a different way—while maintaining the importance of the figure through all mediums of my work. It’s almost like creating a different world; but the body is still the medium. These past two installations have shared new narratives that we, as a collective of both artists and models, are bringing to life right before the audience’s eyes. These have been collaborative efforts with my great friend and artist, Bri Wenke, who is also a figurative painter. Working together to push our independent styles while driving home the final concept is always exciting and challenging. I’m looking forward to sharing more of these in 2020! (if the worldwide pandemic allows)

Once I became curious about these ideologies, my creative process gave me the permission I was so deeply craving to be a vulnerable, yet compassionate person—toward myself.

What does community mean to you in regards to becoming a more established artist? What advice would you give to younger artists?

Community within the creative world is essential. I believe it’s impossible to become inspired or create anything at all without drawing from both experiences and others around you. We’re all a larger part of one another’s stories—at least I like to think so. Being vulnerable with your work and who you are gives others permission to do the same. When I started my career four years ago, I truly relied heavily on the confidence of others to fuel my own. I became hyper-focused on admiring artists of all mediums who were unapologetically putting themselves out for the world to see; and allowing it to nourish my own curiosity. It’s also imperative for expanding your world view and the way you perceive the human experience—which in turn, shifts our work. As creatives, we tend to be more introverted and avoid having the spotlight on ourselves. It’s much easier to hide away behind the work. I’ve had some really wonderful connections with artists who have taught me to break free of that—that my voice and story matter. I’m still very much a work in progress with it all, but it has made a big difference in my work and my overall ability to face fear. I will always recommend becoming vulnerable with others; in and out of the arts community. If you show up, and do so authentically—you never know what can happen. And when you’re courageous and truthful about your work, you give others the permission to step forward.

Given the current climate and the COVID-19 epidemic, many galleries and museums have had to shut down. What impact do you see that having on the art world and how can people still enjoy art in these challenging times?

It’s definitely been a shift. Many of us have had exhibitions and gallery openings rescheduled. I think it calls into question something that new-age artists have been adapting to for awhile now— the concept of self-representation. Being in control of your work allows for much more control, but it’s not always an easy feat. I do think there can be a great middle ground, especially for emerging artists. How can everyone—from artists to fairs to galleries and auction houses—support the industry as a collective whole?

In terms of enjoying art in person and how this changes our art-appreciation experience in the future; I’m unsure of what happens next. I think it’s possible that shifting art collection and viewing experiences to virtual showrooms allows less room for elitism; both for artists and buyers. I do know that the longing for connection and communication is magnified now more than ever—and artists have the power to fill these gaps. I think it forces us to slow down and appreciate the artists’ work more than ever, if even at a distance. How do we want to feel moving forward? Where do we want and expect to see change? How can we better care for one another? The artist has a sense of responsibility to stir these curiosities up—which leaves room for the art world to become more relevant than ever before.