Young man of many parts

It’s not always easy for a 19-year-old to decide what to do next; especially a 19-year-old like Graham Rudge.

Should an award-winning year at art school be followed by a mechanical engineering degree, or a stint at circus school? Of course, that would have to be after a semester learning how to be a butcher.

The ever-curious Rudge – artist, inventor, circus performer, Frantic Follies song-and-dance man, among other things – admits he’s having trouble deciding.

“I have a wide range of interests,” he says with his characteristic wacky smile. “It’s just picking one that’s the problem.”

A former student in the Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) program at Wood Street School, Rudge acted with Moving Parts Theatre and the Guild before landing a summer gig with the Follies. At 15, he was a columnist for What’s Up Yukon, writing about life on his family’s organic farm.

After graduating from F. H. Collins Secondary School, he spent last year studying at the Yukon School of Visual Art (SOVA) in Dawson City.

One of his creations, an assemblage involving computer components, speakers and even an iPod jack, entitled Circuit Skull, recently took first place in the regional division of BMO’s prestigious 1st Art! invitational student art competition.

“It originally started as a project for art school. The idea was to make a two-dimensional collage from a three dimensional surface, but I kind of strayed,” Rudge grins.

Aside from creating something cool, Rudge’s premise was also to poke fun at some of the “pretentious” artists out there. He cites Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull as a particular inspiration.

“As it progressed, it kind of changed along the way,” says Rudge, explaining that the work started him pondering “the associations of electronics and the human mind, and their interaction. It’s interesting to think about.”

Circuit Skull was technically entered into the BMO competition through a loophole.

Usually, the competition is open to students graduating from post-secondary art programs – most often, fourth-year students.

According to the sponsor’s website, “Deans and instructors of undergraduate certificate, diploma, and degree programs in visual art are invited to select from their graduating classes three students, whose ability and imagination place them first among their peers.”

A selection committee chooses an overall national winner, as well as one winner from each eligible province and territory.”

Since SOVA only offers a one-year program, technically Rudge was a graduate, and therefore eligible for the competition. Apart from a monetary award of $2,000 his win includes a trip to Toronto, where he will meet the other winners from across Canada.

All the winning works will be on display from October 5 – 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) in Toronto.

Circuit Skull is not the only creative project Rudge has on the go.

Besides a day job at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and evening duties with the Follies, he is planning and working on more three-dimensional art projects.

A chainsaw-powered longboard, for instance.

“I got the chainsaw from the janitor at SOVA,” he says. “He said if I could get it working, I could have it, and I did! It ran for like ten seconds and then died.

“I think a part of the engine I’d super-glued together must have broken. I may just need to get a new chainsaw,” he admits.

Other projects are still in the idea stage, such as the two-wheeled bobcat made out of old tractor tires and parts, or the mechanical horse.

Rudge intends to base the latter creation on a design by Dutch artist Theo Jansen, who invented a working mechanism for mechanical legs by converting circular motion to linear.

“I’ve been having fun creating stuff,” says Rudge. “I made some fence climbers to use at the Wildlife Preserve. They’re made out of rebar and skateboard padding. They worked pretty well.”

Rudge plans to keep working on his creations through the fall, after which he’ll head to school in Alberta.

For art, one assumes? That assumption is actually way off the mark.

“There’s this school there that offers a one-semester course in how to be a butcher,” says Rudge, “So I’m going to take that, and I don’t really know about after.”

Though Rudge had “lots of fun” in art school, there are so many other options that he hasn’t settled on a long-range goal.

As a practised circus performer, he may look for some kind of circus school to attend, or perhaps go to university to study mechanical engineering.

In the meantime, the budding Renaissance man is likely to be in his garage, messing with electrical circuits and chainsaws.

That is, when he’s not building, or planning sculptures, or working at the Wildlife Preserve, or performing at the Follies, or…

But whatever he’s up to, one thing is certain: he’ll be doing it with that wacky Graham Rudge smile.

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