Original Article featured in The Tuscaloosa News
Written by Al Browning
When it comes to recreating the full panoramic impact of a national championship sealing moment, American Sports Artist Rick Rush has succeeded. Few people are afforded the luxury of reliving that split-second that enabled the 1978 University of Alabama football team to complete a 14-7 Sugar Bowl victory over previously unbeaten and top-ranked Penn State with a goal line stand. But the very few who received that cherished opportunity through the skillful, unparalleled, style of Rush will appreciate the final play for years to come through a closed edition silkscreen print titled "You Better Pass: Sugar Bowl, 1979".
Even Rush, a sporting man with a keen insight into the changing scope of athletics, feels the super-charged emotional impact of his latest work, "It is my most ambitious art piece to date". Without such involvement, the work would not have come over as a brilliant mixture of bright hues and triumphant
"To feel the essence of the action is vital," says Rush, whose sensitivity and perception have made him one of the outstanding figures in his field. "I like for my work to be reflectional of the moment. I want it to be impressionable enough for our collectors to feel a part of the action."
"Sports is the lifeblood and heartbeat of this society, really. Through sports impressions, I'm making an important statement about the American lifestyle."
Rush makes his statement with the color and motion of sporting victory and defeat suspended simultaneously in a niche of time.
In "You Better Pass" Rush not only suspends a sporting moment, he recreated every ounce of its dramatics.
It is all there for one to marvel over -- the clashing of opposing lines, the crunching impact of a fiercely delivered tackle and, yes, even the contrasting feelings of joyous success and disappointing failure.
To find a flaw would be an accomplishment. "I'm a perfectionist," says Rush, "Anything less isn't good enough. It's funny but I know exactly when a painting is finished and one brush stroke before that moment the work is incomplete. I've ruined Don's travel schedule many times by estimating when a painting would be finished and then it not being completed to my satisfaction when that time came. It's the kind of thing you just can't put on a schedule although I know Don wishes you could. He is very patient."
To be "picture perfect" takes more than the proper blending of paints, it also takes the dedication of body, mind, soul -- and time. His is a love affair between man and a God-given ability.
Rush says his latest work -- he considers it his best -- is the result of 32 years and six weeks of labor -- "It is the culmination of 32 years developing technique and six weeks of actual painting."
To get the proper feel, Rush viewed the play leading to the creation of "You Better Pass" from every conceivable angle. Many hours were spent watching stop-action films of the action; many more were spent seeking explanations for success from Alabama
"That play was so critical that I had to experience the reasons Alabama was able to stop Penn State," Rush says. "I went over the play so many times on film and talked to coaches about it so much that I knew its development inside out."
His insight is the gain of those fortunate enough to see.
Rush not only puts sports action on canvas, he puts the beholder in the middle of it.
Football is only a part of his world. He has a distinct ability to corral! it all -- an Olympic boxer flailing an opponent, thoroughbreds roaring toward a photo-finish, race cars zooming at lightning speed around a track, a sail boat gliding across glass-like water and a skier sliding so precariously across glistening snow.
Such ability has Rush working with Feather Press of Houston, Tex., which is a relationship between two of the foremost figures in their trade.
Distinctive style is his forte, something more than the mere production of figures in their most colorful moments. It consists of the tinting of the surface with one color, then building an impression with swashes and strokes of others.
The background color seems to bleed through the images at certain places in Rush's works as if you can see through the subjects, as if they are just a breath. Rush says, "There is no permanence in a lifestyle.
And that is what I paint, the temporality of not only a lifestyle but the events within that lifestyle. My paintings will last longer than their subjects."
Rush thrust himself onto the artistic scene a few years back when a realization called that made him take stock of his accomplishments.
"My work is the culmination of two interests," Rush says. "I have always been involved in athletics and have always been
interested in painting."
"Several years ago, I was convinced I was not fully using the ability God gave me as an artist. God is the divine Creator and man is
made in His image, therefore man has the innate desire to create. Just as He has given you the ability to write and Coach Bryant
the ability to develop an athletic empire, He has given me the ability to recreate through painting. I have a committment to putting
that ability to proper use."
Study and experience are invaluable to an artist. Opportunities for Rush to study independently in the famous galleries and museums of America and to work with masters of printing in New York and Houston -- "Kelton Parrish of Feather Press is the finest silkscreen technician I have ever seen" -- have aided him in his quest for perfection.
A common Christian bond between Rush and his brother, Don, has enabled them to enter into a prosperous partnership.
Don is exclusive agent for Rick and handles all the affairs of business. Their relationship has enabled both to grow as people -- Rick is a Jaycees International nominee as one of the Outstanding Young Men in America for 1979 -- while the artist continues his quest for the ability to put time in a proverbial bottle.
"I want to capture the instantaneous dynamics of the sporting world and hold them for others to see", Rush says.
In painting "You Better Pass" Rush has succeeded -- as anyone fortunate enough to see can testify.