When Barnaby Ruhe was a young student at the U.S. Naval Academy, he would draw hundreds of two-minute sketches of whatever was around him.
“That was before I became an artist,” he explains. “When I finally went to a museum and looked at the paintings, I said, ‘That must have taken them at least a half hour.’”
Now Ruhe, an Upper Milford Township artist who is known for doing marathons of portrait painting, says he’s so used to painting fast he can’t slow down.
He was at it again Thursday evening at the restored barn of a neighbor, Kathleen D. Miller, where he was doing a five-hour "Paint In" as a fundraiser. Ruhe painted portraits of people who made a donation to help pay Miller’s expenses to attend the Democratic Convention in September as a delegate.
Ruhe said he was inspired to become a marathon painter after running one of the 26.2-mile races. To see if he could do it, he painted for 26.2 hours. “I thought I would hit the hour of the wolf and go wild – berserk,” he said. But just as with marathon running, after a certain point, he got a second wind.
“You get fresh brain cells,” he said.
When he’s not marathon running and marathon painting, he’s teaching art at New York University or flying to exotic locales to do astonishing feats with boomerangs, as seen on Youtube.
In fact, Ruhe might well be the only artist in America who is also a six-time boomerang champion. In December, a Brazilian televison station is flying him in to perform a boomerang trick he did on the Jay Leno show.
Ruhe's portraits have vibrant splashes of color but not all the paint makes it onto the canvas. His painting pants look a bit like a Jackson Pollack painting themselves -- a walking canvas.
Early in the evening, Ruhe finished one portrait in about 15 minutes, took a few swigs of beer, chatted with the donors, and then called over his next subject. The night was young and he had to pace himself.