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Mountain Home Magazine

The Art of Marc Rubin's (Still) Life

Mar 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Lilace Mellin Guignard

On the evenings Marc Rubin teaches a class, light pours from the large windows of his studio in the historic Mark Twain building at 166 North Main Street in Elmira across from First Arena. Inside, easels are gathered around a well-lit arrangement of one or two objects. The walls are covered with framed masterpieces reminiscent of school field trips to art museums. It’s hard not to stop and stare into the room where people are laughing, hugging, and painting.

It’s okay to stare. And it’s okay to go in and ask about classes. “Jim Capriotti recruited me to move here—he wanted to bring the arts downtown,” says Marc. He and his wife, Penny DeRenzo, who manages everything, moved from Church Street to Main Street just over two years ago. Small canvases of perky critters—and one called dragon egg—lean against the window below the graphic stencil stating Marc Rubin Associates: designer, painter, instructor.

When attending Southside High School in Elmira, Marc noticed that, while others were taking notes with words, his notes were doodles. He studied graphic design and illustration in college and has been a graphic designer for decades, creating branding for companies including the Hilliard Corporation, New York Sports Club, and Tyoga Container. He creates everything from websites to book covers.

In the early 1990s, he started painting with the renowned Corning artist Thomas Buechner. They met twice a week almost until Tom’s death in 2010. Marc, a classical, representational oil painter, remembers, “When I started painting with him, I wanted to get good at craft. I chose one or two objects to concentrate on at a time, and this grew into my style.”

In this way, he aims to bring attention to things people don’t normally pay attention to. Even when painting objects, he emphasizes the approach is the same as if it were a portrait. “It’s not an apple, it’s that apple. It has personality,” he says.

Michele Ward, owner of Principle Gallery in Alexandria, Virginia, praises Marc’s “ability to connect with the viewer emotionally through inanimate objects….through deliberate and careful cropping and a quiet, often contemplative light.” Referring to the way Marc combines and poses objects, she says he makes us consider “just how ‘inanimate’ these objects really might be.”

Marc previously taught oil painting as an adjunct instructor at Elmira College and at 171 Cedar Arts Center in Corning. Over time he developed his approach to classes, which is flexible for all levels, and spends six weeks on one subject, adding a layer every week. Students paint on masonite (included in the cost of the class) that he has given three layers of gesso (an acrylic paint-like substance that serves as a primer), sanding between each, and then added a layer of imprimatura—an initial stain in a wood-like tone such as many Italian masters used. Marc considers himself a painter in the Caravaggio school.

With each layer, the colors get richer. There is also the added benefit that things can be changed each week—taken further or even in a completely different direction. Marc is a visual learner and approaches teaching this way: “I sit and paint with them,” he says. “They watch me start the painting, as I describe what I’m doing and why. Then I say, ‘Okay, you can start now.’ After a bit I walk around. I want students to get lost in their work.” He encourages them to “listen to the whispers” that is the voice inside guiding them, as opposed to outside expectations. “If I’m always over their shoulder they snap out of the meditation.” Hanging in the studio/gallery is a self-portrait he did with a bee on his shoulder. The bee represents the whispers.

These days, Marc is teaching more than ever before. His classes run six weeks for two hours each week, and students all work from the same still life. They never paint from photographs. One woman comes down from Canandaigua once a week to study with him. A family of women paint together weekly.

Sherri Stager, from Mansfield, started taking classes with Marc a year-and-a-half ago after seeing a book cover he’d done and following him on Facebook. “I was very intimidated,” she says, “but then I thought what the heck. I want to up my game.”

She says he quickly put her at ease. “He’s so kind and personable. He told me the goal was to grow as an artist at your own pace. He’s a true master.”

Marc says, “Part of the beauty of painting to me is it’s a thing you can keep getting better at. The more you paint, the more you see. The more you see, the better you get. The better you get, the more you want to paint.” Two of Sherri’s paintings from Marc’s classes were part of a juried exhibit of regional artists at the Gmeiner Art & Cultural Center in Wellsboro in December 2023.

Students range from age eighteen to seventy-six, and there are classes for all skill levels—beginner, beginner-intermediate, and intermediate-advanced. Private lessons are also available.

Marc’s whimsical and thought-provoking paintings are on display in his studio as well as at several galleries across the country, including Broadmoor Gallery in Colorado Springs, Mary Woerner Fine Arts in West Palm Beach, and the Artists’ Gallery in Chestertown, Maryland. You can see more on his website, where you can also sign up for classes. The next sessions start March 26, 27, and 28. Call the studio at (607) 734-1058 or text (607) 765-0694. The studio is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. But if he’s there he’ll gladly let you in, regardless of the time.

Recently, he saw a woman looking in the window and invited her in. “I asked, ‘Can I help you?’ and she said she was going through a divorce and her husband got all the paintings. I told her, ‘Take him for all you can and come back and buy some.’”

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