You may have seen a colorful “Spread Love” bus driving around the city of Pittsburgh. This work of art is brought to us by a local Pittsburgh artist, Zachary Rutter. He’s on a mission to spread love in the city with a message of positivity and hope.
Zachary Rutter, a 24-year-old artist, was fascinated with art from an early age. He began drawing as a child by copying the covers of his favorite comic book issues. When he received his first comic book (Ultimate Spider-Man #1) when he was just 7 years old, it consumed his life with art ever since. Not a day has gone by that Rutter isn’t sketching or doodling for at least 10 minutes a day. He also paints every day as well, usually multiple paintings a day.
Zachary prides himself on his speed as an artist. “Most weekends I spend my time live painting at various events, festivals, and music gigs throughout the city of Pittsburgh, even expanding recently to the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland. My favorite thing is painting on stage alongside music groups, most frequently with GoldCastle. I typically complete each painting by the end of the band’s set,” Rutter said.
“I’ve completed paintings in as little as 30 minutes for a set, and people in the crowd enjoy watching the creation so much so that the artwork often sells by the end. When people purchase my work, they’re not only buying a colorful and thought-provoking work of art, but an experience that was captured in time. I love that my work can be viewed as a memory to the people that were helping build the energy of each event.”
I personally met Zachary at the Deutschtown music festival and was struck by his colorful work and positive message.
Rutter graduated from Slippery Rock University in May of 2018 with a bachelor degree in Fine Art and a minor in Art History. His main college focuses were printmaking and painting. While at SRU, he took advantage of study abroad trips to Paris, Italy, and London. During each trip, he executed what Rutter calls “Art Drops,” where he would take a series of paintings on the trip, leave them in various tourist attractions, and attach a brief message and bio inside each painting.
“It was like a scavenger hunt for the tourists and people of the countries I visited,” he said. “My most successful Art Drop was in London. I took 35 paintings and received contact from 28 different people that found them, who were from over 12 different countries across 5 continents.”
Rutter’s artwork is heavily influenced by the drawings of his favorite comic book artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, as well as the paintings of notable Pop Artist, Keith Haring.
“These men shaped my understanding of the world and the people around me through their works and have inspired my art each and every day. I want each of my paintings to be viewed similarly to a comic book panel illustrating my own experiences, and understanding of the world,” Zachary says. His goal is to express the individual experiences of human life in a contemporary way, while also conveying thought-provoking ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, love and hate.
His paintings consist of a background layer of comic book pages that he adheres to the surface of a canvas. Rutter does this to symbolize the negative moments of people’s lives, like crying, fighting, or violence. He then paints on top of the comics images of beauty and color to show the viewer that beyond all the bad times are moments of happiness. “My art is meant to provoke conversation and, in return, spread a message of positivity and love. This led me to the movement I’ve started called the Spread Love Army.”
Spread Love Army
While in college, Zachary mentored with an artist named Baron Batch. He spent about two years working as his studio assistant and apprentice. It was during this time that Rutter was lost with what he wanted his art to mean or say. Baron asked what he wanted people to feel from his art, that was when he knew that he wanted to promote a message of love.
“Around this time, I began developing early images of the ‘Sun Heart,’ which later became the symbol of the Spread Love Army. This heart was inspired from a painting by Keith Haring from 1982 which depicted two human-like figures dancing in front of a heart,” Zachary describes. The “Sun Heart” is black and white with a red center and 8 squares exploding in each direction.
“I chose to refer to this movement as an army because I feel like people are more responsive when they feel like they’re fighting for something. In this case, the soldiers of the spread love army are fighting to put an end to the war on hate. It seems silly or obvious, but oftentimes that’s exactly what works,” Zachary says.
In the two years since developing this movement, Rutter has had many positive reactions from his Pittsburgh community. He attributes much of this success to the “Sun Heart” sticker campaign that started in May 2018. Since then, he has given away over 4,000 stickers to people he has met along the way. Rutter also incorporated the “Sun Heart” message in other ways, such as painting a BMW, having a Port Authority bus vinyl wrapped, and being selected for PGH Healthy Ride’s “Art Bike” competition.
Port Authority “Sun Heart” Bus
One of Zach’s biggest accomplishments is developing a design for a Pittsburgh Port Authority bus. In the summer of 2018, Zachary was live painting on Liberty Ave. for the Three Rivers Arts Festival. The image he painted on canvas was of a big red bus with hearts all over it crossing the Smithfield Street bridge. “It just felt like a cool image to paint, with no intentions of it ever becoming a real thing,” Rutter said.
Fast forward several months later and Pittsburgh was experiencing sadness and pain with the passing of Mac Miller and the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue. Zachary tweeted a photo of the original painting to Port Authority’s Twitter page, saying that he felt Pittsburgh could use “a little traveling positivity.” To his surprise, the CEO, Katharine Kelleman, direct messaged Zachary expressing how much she loved the idea. Over the next several months, Rutter worked up a digital rendering of the design and the Port Authority commissioned him to make the #Spreadlovebus a real thing.
“Since the bus has hit the streets, I have received tweets, snapchats, messages, photos, and videos from dozens of people that say how much seeing that bus has brightened their commute and day-to-day life,” Zachary said. “I am so grateful that Port Authority was willing to work with me in making my art a moment of joy in people’s daily lives.”
You can contact Zachary at email@example.com, or visit his website at www.zacharyrutterart.com. Follow him on Instagram at @zacharyrutterart, Twitter at @zacrutterart, or Facebook at Zachary Rutter Art.This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.