Trinity Rucker sits and looks at the camera in front of greenery.
Trinity Rucker, a senior in the VCU School of the Arts, hopes to help activate people’s creative side in the hub of VCU’s research enterprise. (Contributed photo)

VCUarts undergrad brings her eye to a unique canvas: the university’s research hub

Trinity Rucker is serving as innovator-in-residence in OVPRI, where she wants art to spur collaboration.

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In her youth, Trinity Rucker was more than a little green – as in, inexperienced – when it came to color.

“I didn’t even know what my favorite color was. I didn’t have one,” she said. “There was still a point where I had so much to explore and I didn’t even know – I was stilted in a way.”

Now a senior in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, Rucker has been navigating a compelling artistic journey. The one-time engineering student who shifted to VCUarts has a new role – and a canvas – that may seem unexpected: She is the innovator-in-residence at VCU’s Office of the Vice President of Research and Innovation. Rucker is using art as a catalyst to enhance OVPRI’s culture of collaboration, which is a key component of the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan.

“One of my initial projects was just finding out a way to transform the office physically. But the more research I did – the more meetings that I held, questionnaires and everything – it became really important to me that I found out how to tap into what exactly people want,” Rucker said.

“I can go and paint a wall a different color like everybody’s been asking to” – Rucker mentions an orange office wall that is considered an eyesore – “but what’s even more important is what they interact with on a day-to-day basis, where they spend the most time.”

Painting of a figure lying down with one leg crosssed over the other.
“Untitled,” by Trinity Rucker, from a live model from Miguel Carter-Fisher’s Figure in Context class.

Rucker’s work extends beyond interior design. She aims to implement spaces that activate people’s creative side in the workplace, hoping to inspire innovation in the hub of VCU’s research enterprise.

Rucker said the work in OVPRI has broadened her outlook on her own artistic process. Her growing comfort in office spaces and exposure to people who know how to organize and implement ideas have inspired her to take a more pragmatic approach to creating.

“It’s just like a day in the office,” she said. “Do I need to warm up? Should I stretch before I sit down for a couple hours? Is there a process for this?”

Indeed, the process before creating is just as intentional as the creating itself.

“Let’s draw through the basics and then build up from there. You don’t have to just jump in and then flail – there’s a process for things,” Rucker said. “Especially taking on oil painting, which is a very long process. I’ve had to teach myself to have patience like you would in an ordinary job.”

Rucker recently had the opportunity to show her work at an exhibition in California that highlights Black creators. Before heading West, she had to overcome the anxiety an artist can face when displaying their talents, and as the only artist in her family, she had to find motivation within.

“I just felt like no one’s really here to hold my hand through this. I don’t know what I’m doing and that kind of terrifies me, but it’s also kind of exciting because I could be the first [in my family] to do this,” Rucker said. “I kept asking myself: Who am I waiting for permission for?”

An abstract print.
“Chasm,” (2021), digital and archival print, Trinity Rucker.

In her personal work, Rucker employs bright colors and varied textures – and often uses her face for reference as portraiture.

“I really do love doing portraits. I’ve always done that since I was a kid. The easiest person to draw is yourself,” she said, noting how that focus helped ease her later embrace of colors. “I felt like doing portraiture, specifically self-portraits, was just my way of exploring that and taking that back. I didn’t have to use color, but I know the way my nose is, I know what my profile looks like.”

Rucker does have favorite colors now – “I love green and brown and earth tones and yellows” – and can marvel at her paint-splattered workspace, which reflects dynamism and an embrace of exploration.

“I wish I could just scan all of it,” she said. “It just brings so much life and authenticity into the work. I just recently cleaned my palette off, but it made me sad every time I had to because I love seeing where my brain was going, especially to be somebody who really isn’t educationally familiar with color.”

Wherever her brain is going, Rucker is ready for her artistic journey to continue – at OVPRI and beyond.

“If it works well with my personality and what I love to do, then I’ll go with that,” she said. “Maybe it’s working in theater or something. Maybe it’s still doing painting. Maybe it’s more of a corporate role. When you start realizing that you’re good at what you do and you’re building more confidence in it, that’s what’s going to take you wherever you need to go.”