If you walk away with anything after talking to Dustin Rousseau and viewing his paintings, it’s that architecture extends far beyond buildings for this artist and practicing architect. Everything he expresses on a two-dimensional canvas is via a collection of shapes, giving a sense of depth and perspective, much like architecture. His abstracts are greatly influenced by many aspects of his trade – from its lines and colors, to the messiness of construction.
With an eye for color, dimension, order and space, it’s no surprise to learn that Rousseau has been an artist most of his life. Like many of his peers, the Lafayette native showed a flair for drawing (and painting) at a very young age, taking his first art class at seven. Even as a young boy, his intrigue with Disney films sparked a desire to be an animator, a dream that later led to his pursuit of a visual arts degree with a concentration in animation. But early into his studies, he saw animation begin to trend into digital production. Creating with his hands was important to the student, so he shifted his interest to architecture, eventually earning a master’s degree from UL at Lafayette.
Now living in Baton Rouge, Rousseau has been practicing architecture since 2011, the last four years at Dyke Nelson Architecture (DNA) Workshop. He is passionate about his work renovating multi-family residential projects and embraces his contributions to urban planning. “I like the ability to bring beauty and excitement into peoples’ lives by updating the spaces they inhabit,” he says.
Rediscovering His Canvas
Around 2014 the artist-turned-architect once again embraced painting, primarily as a hobby to relieve stress. Even though his pursuit of painting was for leisure, he worked diligently on developing his own style, an effort that resulted in the sale of his first abstract three years ago.
Rousseau identifies that style he found in picking up his brush again as being inspired by architecture in one way or another. And if there’s one element in his paintings that consistently ties to architecture, it’s the line work that is prominent throughout his art. Wavy, squiggly, thick, or thin – and sometimes less obvious – the lines are there. “Even in my clouds, there’s a sense of line in the way I move the paint with a thick brush,” he says. “In architecture school you learn how to draw a straight line freehand many, many times.”
Rousseau spends much of his time on construction sites, watching the processes and seeing the materials that both inspire him and find their way into his work. “Concrete is one of my favorite building materials. The minimalization of it is beautiful to me,” he says. “On the other hand, the exposed wood studs, the dimensions, or notes the builders mark on the sheetrock are beautiful, too.”
Color also plays a prominent role in Rousseau’s paintings. Tans, greys, whites, blacks, muted pinks and blues, and some bolder colors are blended into a medium-to-heavy-bodied acrylic. His work with housing authorities across the country has him travelling, often to bigger cities – and older cities. “Historical buildings downtown, some 200 years old, start to show their age with a beautiful patina,” he points out. “I also love to travel to the Caribbean and Mexico, and my more bold and colorful paintings reflect that, particularly the blue shades.”
Less Speaks Louder
Rousseau has also translated onto canvas an important lesson learned in architecture: the more minimalistic buildings speak the loudest. “Like structures, a great work of art can be something silent... and controlled ...and quiet and speak a ton,” he explains. “I find my minimal pieces speak louder.”
In fact, it was a minimalistic painting that gave Rousseau his first big break in the art world when, in 2018, he responded to an ad from General Public Art (an art curation company owned by actress Portia de Rossi) looking for new artwork. Bravely, he sent the organization one piece: a heavily textured painting, mostly white with subtle greys and blacks, called The White Chapel. It was a good call. Not only did the company choose his painting, but since 2019, sixteen of Rousseau’s paintings have been made into synographsTM for sale at Restoration Hardware stores and through its website. The fourth collection of the series will be available next year.
A Practice in Balance
With a full-time job, Rousseau etches out time in the evenings, three or four days a week, for his pastime that has turned into a business. “Sundays are my best days for painting,” he says. “From two in the afternoon to 11 or so. I’ll get so involved that it can be exhausting.”
On those days, he opens his garage to reveal a makeshift studio and turns on his music (preferring classical and musical scores.) He admits he enjoys the exposure to the neighborhood and the passersby. “Even those who stop by to say ‘hi’ and see what’s on the canvas that day,” he says. These days what’s on his canvas is usually one of several commission jobs, including one for a loyal client in Boston who’s purchased 17 of Rousseau’s paintings after first seeing them in Restoration Hardware.
Reflecting on his work, Rousseau expresses the same understated intent found in his paintings. “For people to want my work, to have a piece of me inside their homes across the country (and when they go home to Lafayette), is the greatest reward,” he says. “I hope the paintings show the happiness that I feel when I’m working.”
For inquiries or to view Rousseau’s work, visit dustinrousseau.com