Joe Rudko: Pixels of Nostalgia

July 21, 2017

Joe Rudko shares a work in progress at his studio. The artist's works will show with PDX Contemporary Art and Greg Kucera Gallery at Seattle Art Fair.

Half a dozen miniature plastic bags hang from a white windowsill where light floods into Joe Rudko’s studio. Each vessel contains a specific element, commonly repeated in photographs — some hold lips, some wires, some words.

“They’re kind of seeds of ideas,” Rudko says.

He has collected these snippets over time after noticing certain components that reappear consistently. “They are a common part,” he said. “And so maybe it speaks to something more universal.”

Rudko ponders these ideas day in and day out. His work is assembled with repurposed pieces of found photographs, comments on conventions and generalizations within photography. 

"Blue Machine," found photographs on paper, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Greg Kucera Gallery.


“That picture could be anyone. It could be a stand-in for your grandmother you didn’t know, or your old neighbor when you were a kid.”

While attending Western Washington University, Rudko identified himself as a photographer. In fact, he says he was “hell-bent” on becoming one. But as he dove deeper into the school’s fine arts program, he realized he couldn’t add anything new to the conversation by making traditional photos. He wished to comment on the practice he loved, but needed an extended platform.

At the same time, the artist had built a collection of small snapshots, and his fascinations with found photos quickly evolved the medium and style of his work. He sliced the pictures to make grids, and tore them to create collage-like imagery, or text, building a completely new experience and story.

“It became a way to put an addendum on a photograph and say ‘what if you think about this picture like this,’” he said.

One of many collections of found photographs in Rudko's studio.
Today, Rudko works in the same fashion. Box upon box of photographs, many from the late 1800s, fill the file cabinets in his studio. Those he hopes to use in coming works rest on cutting boards, and those which have already been reconstructed line the walls.

But not all photos make it to the shredder. At times, Rudko said he finds familiarity between friends or relatives and a person in a photo. “Sometimes I have personal associations where I see a photo and it reminds me of someone I know,” he said. “And sometimes there are pictures I just can’t cut up because I think they’re good as stand-alone photos.”

Rudko said he thinks this sense of reminiscence, and time passed, may simply result from the absence of physical photographs in the modern world. While his finished pieces appear contemporary, many individual “units” or “pixels” contain recognizable faces or elements that evoke nostalgia.
Rudko's composition routine rarely includes sketching and instead, focuses on layering and organizing images.
“I think as time goes by between when we printed pictures and now, there is more allowance for an individual to project onto that image because it’s further removed from their experience,” he said. “That picture could be anyone. It could be a stand-in for your grandmother you didn’t know, or your old neighbor when you were a kid.”

As the artist combines hundreds of potential memories to form a single image, he in turn prepares a handful of works to be shown at Seattle Art Fair.

For the past two years, PDX Contemporary Art represented the Rudko — this year his work will show with Greg Kucera Gallery as well. While he said juggling two galleries is a learning curve, one of his favorite aspects of the fair is building relationships with other artists and galleries, and he hopes visitors share the sentiment.

“Hopefully it’s exposing a lot of people to art who wouldn’t be otherwise,” he said. “And I hope it gets them to go to the galleries after the case.”