Rudolph Valentino Bostic holds a special place among Folk/Outsider artists of the American South as a painter of pictures on recycled cardboard. He has created his own style of narrative art, using acrylic and enamel house paint and the occasional touch of glitter to summon up vibrantly colored cardboard visions of Bible stories from the Old and New Testament, the heroes of history and myth, fantasy landscapes and still lifes, and just about everything else from angels and hot air balloons to mermaids and merry-go-rounds.
Born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1941, Rudy taught himself to draw as a child, making cut-out toys of Cowboys and Indians. He was working at the Derst Baking Company in Savannah in 1979, when he got the inspired idea of using its discarded cardboard boxes as canvases. Working into the early hours of the morning, he made his first pictures with left-over cans of house paint on cardboard panels laid out on his bed. Rudy’s working style has changed little over the years, but he has expanded his color palette with acrylic and metallic paints.
Rudy is a highly intuitive artist. He begins by sketching his subjects on cardboard with a felt-tip pen, developing the images with bold brush strokes of contrasting tone and color. He adds the finishing details with felt-tip pen. Rudy’s special “chiaroscuro” style of painting was inspired by his home study of the Great Masters of Western Art. He keeps a library of art books and clippings of favorite paintings by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rembrandt. He also gets many ideas from television, which he turns on, when he paints.
One distinctive feature of Rudy’s art is his use of framing devices. In their simplest form, he paints black borders around his central images, decorating them with intertwining lines in bright colors. Sometimes, he cuts out real cardboard frames, which he attaches to his paintings, richly decorating them with smaller pictures, having a visual or symbolic connection to the main theme. In other paintings, Rudy uses rows of white dots, resembling strands of pearls, to frame each subject on his panels in a cartoon-strip style.
Rudy first caught the attention of serious Folk Art collectors, when he exhibited his pieces at Savannah’s Black Heritage Festival in the early 1990s. His cardboard creations were featured in the 2005 inaugural exhibition of the Hurn Museum of Contemporary Folk Art in Savannah and can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the American Folk Art Museum in New York, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The Bowden Collections offers the traveling exhibit, Cardboard Chronicles: The Biblical Art of Rudolph Bostic, for rent to churches and educational and cultural institutions.