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Former exchange student returns for exhibition

SAM GAUSE/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Swiss artist Dominique Ruppen holds up one of his seven painting that will be featured at the ArtsNatchez Gallery May 2. The painting, on which Ruppen has spent roughly 20 hours, was inspired by a view he had through an airplane window while taking off in Dallas, Texas. Almost two decades ago, Ruppen lived in Natchez as a foreign exchange student.

SAM GAUSE/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Swiss artist Dominique Ruppen holds up one of his seven painting that will be featured at the ArtsNatchez Gallery May 2. The painting, on which Ruppen has spent roughly 20 hours, was inspired by a view he had through an airplane window while taking off in Dallas, Texas. Almost two decades ago, Ruppen lived in Natchez as a foreign exchange student.

He came to America to play football, but left with a paintbrush.

Dominique Ruppen, a Swiss artist, credits much of his success to the encouragement he received while he was an exchange student in Natchez nearly 20 years ago.

“I was 17, about to turn 18, when I came here,” said Ruppen, who lived with John and Debbie Reeves for nine months. “I wanted to see what high school in America was like.”

Ruppen played running back for the Block High School Bears in 1996 and 1997. In between football practice and his studies, he began pursuing the arts.

Specifically, Ruppen said the region’s verdant landscape influenced him.

“The light just makes all the colors look different,” said Ruppen, adding that his hometown — Bern, Switzerland — boasts mostly gray tones. “The idea that you have the Mississippi River going all the way up north to places I’ve never been before — it’s a very unique concept to me.”

The Reeveses encouraged Ruppen’s growing interest, and took him to meet several local artists who fostered his growing love of the arts.

When Ruppen returned to Switzerland, his interest blossomed quickly. Traveling to Paris to study animation, art history and painting, his talent eventually solidified into a career.

“Every painting, in some ways, is a self portrait,” Ruppen admitted. “When you spend 40, 50 — sometimes 60 hours — on a painting, it always becomes personal.”

And his influences are as wide as his travel radius.

Currently, Ruppen said mid-20th century abstract American artists — like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman — have especially piqued his interest.

“I’m starting to explore different scales, formats and shapes,” Newman said. “The many layers of paint on a canvas, that’s always interested me.”

In 2011, simply opening a daily newspaper provided Ruppen with ample subjects. After reading national news, Ruppen put his thoughts on canvas and translated the subject from photograph to paint.

He began by chronicling riots in Tunisia, Egypt and Greece.

“I wanted to make something that would communicate and interact with other people,” Ruppen said. “So I would search through newspapers every week and pick images I liked and collect them. And then, at the end of the week, I would choose one of those photos and paint it on a 20 x 24-inch canvas.”

It didn’t take long for Ruppen to acquire an entire collection of current events, all depicted in oil and acrylic.

Some subjects though — like a sun emerging through the clouds, or the human body — remain staple subjects in Ruppen’s artistic repertoire.

Much like the time he spent branching out in Natchez, Ruppen said experiencing new places and people provides him with continuous inspiration.

“The longer you stay in the same environment, the more you don’t see the beauty of it anymore,” he said. “That’s why I have to keep on moving, keep my eyes fresh.”

As a way to pay homage to the place that nurtured his artistic talents, Ruppen will host a special demonstration at ArtsNatchez Gallery at 2 p.m. Saturday. The demonstration, free to the public, will showcase his many painting techniques and include commentary on works that have recently been exhibited in Europe.

Wine and refreshments will be available after the demonstration, as will the artist for questions and comments.

“I knew I would become an artist, but I never envisioned having an exhibition here in Natchez,” Ruppen said. “I’m very inspired by coming back. In some ways, I’m going down memory lane, as they say.”

Ruppen’s work will be on exhibit through Sunday.