Bound for Baltimore

Well-connected art duo take their leave

The typical scenario has artists falling for the bright lights of Manhattan, but Cornel Rubino and Linda Ridings fell hard for the blue-collar funkiness of Baltimore.
After 22 years as fixtures on the Atlanta art scene, the cosmopolitan pair, who met at Florence’s Accademia di Bella Arti and both occupied studios in Decatur’s Beacon Hills complex, decided to take a leap of faith this month and try on new digs in the shabby-chic ambiance of that edgy port town.

An illustrator whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, Rubino’s brand of bad-boy wit, sex and whimsy was last seen in the “Cock Fight” mural at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center last April. Both Rubino and Ridings taught at the Atlanta College of Art and served on numerous local committees, including the Forward Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Committee, the DeKalb Council for the Arts Grant Committee and the VSA Arts for All Gallery Committee, where Rubino recently curated Love Among the Dissociated. While Rubino worked Atlanta’s fine art circuit, Linda ran her own decorative painting firm, Artemura, doing design work for some of Atlanta’s wealthiest families in a world she says was eerily close to that depicted in Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full.

But alas, the beaucoup bucks Atlanta’s aristocracy shelled out for gold-leaf and faux-marble finishes were not to find Rubino and Ridings. And after a while, exposure to such riches became downright annoying.

“Prosperity is kind of offensive,” says Rubino, especially when “that prosperity never filtered down to the arts.”

The couple felt slighted by the lack of support they received from institutions like the High Museum and local art collectors, who were willing to splurge six figures on antiques but not art, so the couple decided it was time for a change.

Speaking by phone from the transitional chaos of their box-strewn living room in the Charles Village district, Rubino dishes in his deliciously insinuating, just-between-us- sophisticates tone about his problems with the Atlanta art scene.

Like other artists struggling to make ends meet in Atlanta, Rubino and Ridings were also frustrated by the out-of-control gentrification of the Virginia-Highland enclave where they rented an apartment for decades and watched their rent creep ever and ever upward.

One moment they were living in Funkytown, the next moment the Labrador-toting, baseball-cap wearing, latte-sucking hordes were upon them.

All of a sudden, says Rubino, “my neighbors were driving Range Rovers. And I felt at a very strange disadvantage.

“It’s the classic situation where artists go into a neighborhood and make it fun and then everyone else moves in and the artists are kind of pushed out, and to a degree, we were pushed out,” he says.

Faced with the twin urges of art-making, which demands a creative, changeable, inspired attitude, and the need for some stability in their post-40 years, Rubino, 49, and Ridings, 46, took their hard-earned boho bucks and plunked them down on a stunning Baltimore three-story rowhouse circa 1920 for a very modest sum that couldn’t buy even a one- bedroom condominium in Atlanta.

Many of their friends were surprised that the well-established couple with great connections and a firm foot in the local art scene would pull up roots and set out for a new town without gainful employment, but Rubino vamps with all the spunk of a fresh-out-of-art-school rabble-rouser, “We’re in the prime of our fucking lives!”

Kevin Sipp obeys James Brown’s imperative to “make it funky” in his witty solo show Shamanic MC’s, up through Sept. 9 at Kubatana Moderne in Buckhead. Using diaspora touchstones of cowrie shells, African masks and images of native sons in loincloth, Sipp builds a bridge from Old World to new with a beat you can dance to. Mixed in with the old school is a turntable decorated in “Flintstones”-chic with shells and feathers titled “Spinkisi #2.” Stereo speakers, microphones and other means of testifying speak to the seductive power of music and a pop culture forum, in which Sipp clearly puts his faith.

Sipp seems to intuit that the best way to address the next generation is through the rhythmic language of its own age, and the work in Shamanic MC’s at once dignifies and activates the past while bringing a sense of depth to the microphone fiends of today.
It is a relief to find a respite from top-heavy group shows at Art Spot in painter Danielle R. Lamberson’s solo show Remains to Be Seen. Though some of the work slides into the purely decorative, the wonderful liberties Lamberson takes with paint and canvas speak for themselves. The artist demonstrates her formal adventurism in a series of 36 small canvases titled “Albert’s Vision” that suggest the individual frames of movies or animation cels. Remains’ showpiece, however, is “Off Broadway,” an abstracted diptych that combines the funhouse colors and lively, in-flux sensibilities of animation and graffiti. The show runs through Sept. 6.

For Art’s Sake is a biweekly column covering the local arts scene.