TONY RUDISILL, painter & bird carver

story by Sterling Brown
photos by Bill Horin

Do artists try to be artists? If so, then Tony Rudisill has been trying all his life. When his family moved to West Atlantic City in 1949, he had already been creating wildlife art for years. Mostly birds. Eventually he would be known as the Bird Man. Tony’s paintings segued in the 1970s to carvings, leading to world-winning awards presented by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, Maryland. The carvings remain on display at the museum.

“I take as long as required to get everything right,” Tony says, at seventy-eight standing straight-backed and hearty in his khaki shirt and pants, his big hands making short and efficient gestures. “I don’t rush.”

“Around 2009 I got tired of painting birds.”

When asked why, he says, “All that detail. Now I can be more of an artist.” Explaining, he says he realized he wanted to paint landscapes. And not just any landscapes, such as the marsh he’s been staring at for the past fifty years. In 2010 he and his wife Marianne got in their car, drove to sixteen western national parks, and returned a month later with hundreds of photographs. Then Tony started painting, interrupting his work only to fish for striped bass with his son Mark, and for another trip West to visit more parks in 2011.

His goal is to paint one large canvas and a few smaller ones of each park. Canvas is really the wrong word, because Tony applies acrylics to Masonite panels, but whatever you want to call his paintings, they are proceeding very well. So far he has completed eleven of the large “Masonites” and ten of the smaller.

They are impressive. The grandeur of the scenes he visited exists in each stroke of paint. You can’t help but wonder, though, how these wonderful paintings, with their seemingly endless vistas of rock and sand, leaf and tree, are less detailed than the plumage of a bird. Whatever the case, certainly Tony Rudisill is a fine artist, a man who is trying to be one every day, and fully succeeding.