Colorful mist whispered from a can over a wood construction wall in downtown Casper.The artist let a breeze float the colors onto the wall as he painted a nebulous cloud. He sprayed around a plate to create a planet and used an edger to create points of a star. He flicked white paint, which splattered into distant stars, and daubed the spray paint with a sponge in an arc near the top of his scene.
Slowly, a black expanse filled with a galaxy began to emerge in colors of pink, yellow, purple, blue and green. The space-like stream flowed from the hands of a girl silhouetted against an orange sunset with a cowboy on horseback and a boy with a stick horse.
The image, created by local spray paint artist Chris “Rugie“ Ruegsegger, gradually materialized as people strolled down Second Street during Thursday’s Art Walk. Many slowed to look, and some stopped to watch. The sight of Rugie spraying on canvas to create his street art has been a familiar sight at the Art Walk and other community events. His art business has taken off in the past couple of years, enough to become a part-time job, he said.
But the 33-year-old has been making spray paint art for 15 years because he loves the creative expression.
“That’s what graffiti is about – self-expression,” he said. “My big thing is just to keep the street art alive — and communities like Casper, where street art isn’t a huge thing, use it to open those eyes and maybe get more of it in the community around here.”
A different art
The Casper native started admiring graffiti art while working at Black Hills Bentonite mines in Casper. He’d see train cars come in painted in vibrant colors, images and stylized lettering – some so impressive he thought maybe the train cars should be displayed in a museum, he said.
“They’d come from down south, you know Mexico, California, where street art is huge,” Rugie said. “And I used to see these amazing paintings and wondered why these people never actually put this stuff on canvas and try to sell instead of just vandalizing stuff. But I started out as a young punk also who painted whatever I could.”
He taught himself to spray paint through trial and error. A lot of it is in how you manipulate the can, he said, while spraying one close to to the wall and firing upward to add a purple comet to last week’s mural.
These days, he creates about three or four spray paint pieces on canvas a week for customers and offers murals as well.
“I pretty much paint anything that I can paint without getting in any trouble,” Rugie said.
About two years ago, he started a Facebook page for his graffiti art. Someone then asked him to create some street art. Business soon began taking off. His downtown booth at last summer’s Wyoming Eclipse Festival caught the attention of several news outlets and appeared in media around the world, he said.
One of his pieces was chosen last month to decorate a traffic signal box downtown as a winner of this year’s Keep Casper Beautiful public art contest with Art 321.
After his workday as a supervisor for a local phone company, he does most of his painting at home after his kids go to sleep.
Rugie paints a variety of subjects and is most known for galaxy and mountain motifs incorporated into Wyoming themes like bison and other wildlife.
He often donates his art for local nonprofit fundraisers and is planning a live painting session for an upcoming Pop in the Shop car show event.
The mural he painted last Thursday covers the Alpenglow Natural Foods space, which was damaged in a recent fire. Proceeds from a raffle or auction of a smaller version will help the business owners, who are now operating across the street, he said.
“The community made me who I am today,” Rugie said. “So the least I can do is give back to my community who follows me and supports me.”
Painting the town
Several people stopped to talk and ask questions as Rugie painted at the Casper Art walk.
Joseph Flores snapped some photos with his phone. He’d heard about Rugie on social media and knew about his piece soon to appear on downtown traffic signal box.
“This type of medium is super hard to do” Flores said. “I used to be a punk kid when I was younger and we used to tag stuff with graffiti style stuff but to actually be able to express yourself through graffiti style art is amazing to me.”
His murals can be seen at a some residences in town and at the Staightline Vapors business. Sometimes, he’ll do work in exchange for a free space to create.
“For those brief hours that you’re painting a mural, people can walk by and see what you’re about or what’s in your mind,” Rugie said. “You pretty much put yourself out there for everybody to critique you.”
Local artists Amy and Tony Elmore stopped during the Art Walk to talk and admire his work.
The painted wall over the fire-damaged space shows how art can bring something positive to the negative, Amy Elmore said.
“We just love it, an artist adding color to downtown,” she added.
Rugie continued to work on the galaxy mural as the night went on. There was symbolism throughout the piece. He left the people as silhouettes so viewers could picture themselves in the mural. He painted a girl blowing a kiss to “spread the love over the city and essentially throughout the world and the galaxy,” Rugie said. “In a negative world, we need something beautiful and that’s where this came from.”
Rugie aims to show people – especially his children — that graffiti art has much to offer despite its reputation with gangs and vandalism. Graffiti art dates back to cavemen and ancient civilizations around the world, he said.
“I want to show people that it’s actually beautiful art,” Rugie said. “It’s just a completely different form and it doesn’t have to be illegal art. There’s tons of us graffiti artists out there that do this professionally. If you can paint a big mural on the wall and make one person that’s having a bad day smile you know you have succeeded in what you’re doing.”