Artist and poet Wesley Rusnell was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1934. He first attended classes at San Diego Junior College before receiving an undergraduate degree in English from San Francisco State University in 1961. The first solo exhibition of Rusnell’s artwork was at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1963. In the book Modernists in Taos: From Dasburg to Martin, David L. Witt wrote, “By the latter part of the 1950s, the legendary bookstore, City Lights Books, played a vital role in the artistic and literary life of San Francisco. Like others of his time, Wesley Rusnell... an aspiring poet, found the legendary North Beach neighborhood hangout important to his career. Rusnell had studied English rather than art, but surrounded by the great modern art produced in San Francisco during the postwar years, he decided to try his hand at it.”
At the invitation of his friend Steve Hinton, Rusnell moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1963 where we would become associated with the Taos Moderns group of artists. “A few months after his arrival,” Witt continues, “Rusnell entered and won first prize in an art competition at the Stables Gallery... Rusnell emerged as a remarkable colorist combining unusually bold and vibrant hues giving his smooth, straightforward figures an element of high drama.” In 1964 he won the Helen Wurlitzer Prize for Painting. In 1973 Rusnell was accepted into the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. Rusnell served in the roles of Registrar and Curator of the Roswell Museum from 1976 to 2006. After retiring, he began to paint with watercolor. Around this time, Rusnell said “I regard my watercolors as aperçus—fleeting glances—recalled at leisure, rendered in a no-technique style.” Rusnell passed away at the age of 88 on April 26, 2023 in Taos.
Special thanks is owed to Nancy Fleming at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art as well as Sally Anderson, Melinda Creamer, Elaine and Jeremy Howe, Laurie Rufe, and Ted Schooley for lending additional works by the artist to supplement works by Rusnell in the Roswell Museum’s collection.
Top: Wesley Rusnell, Stu’s Mesa III, 2006, Watercolor on Paper, Roswell Museum & Art Center Foundation Purchase with Funds from the Carolyn B. Ives Estate Bequest for Acquisitions.
Bottom: Wesley Rusnell, Vision in Dawn Light, 2009, Watercolor on Paper, Roswell Museum & Art Center Foundation Purchase with Funds from the Carolyn B. Ives Estate Bequest for Acquisitions.