The Adventure of Living In Between
by John Seed | July 23, 2015
Of course, the physical locations where an artist literally "lives" may have only slight connection to the life of their mind. In Ruth Weisberg's case it has to be said that she has lived--as an artist--in the margins between reality, history and art, constantly inter-weaving them in an effort to reconcile her own identity and experience with universal forces and concerns. To put it another way, Ruth has a feeling for culture as adventure. Making art is her personal way of obliterating the boundaries of time and place and of using imagination and empathy to suggest parallel realities that are zones of the "in between."
"My main pre-occupations have been time and memory," Ruth recently explained to me; "I'm very interested in the artist's ability to travel through time." While growing up in Chicago--her father was an architect and her politically active mother was "the president of everything"--Ruth was exposed to artistic culture by the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also took her first ten years of art classes. She grew up with the knowledge that her family was part of a diaspora. The sweetness of her early life was both deeply connected to her family's Jewish heritage and also tempered by her growing awareness of the previous generation's tragic losses.
Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time - Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles
By her fourth class at the Art Institute, Ruth had made up her mind to become an artist. It helped that her parents approved of her choice, and also that she was able to study as a teenager with a brilliant drawing instructor: Emmanuel Jacobson. To this day drawing remains central to Ruth's work in all media including printmaking and painting and is an important aspect of her teaching at the USC Roski School of Art and Design.
Because of her attachment to drawing and earlier engagement with Italian Renaissance art, Ruth found herself "out of synch" during her art studies at the University of Michigan. "The choices were Abstract Expressionism or Pop," she recalls. "I was interested in surface and tactility but couldn't have been more remote from Pop." As a woman artist Ruth also became increasingly aware of her relative "invisibility" in the male-dominated art world. After graduate school she held a teaching job at Eastern Michigan University and also received a Ford Foundation grant to research and illustrate a Holocaust-themed book: The Shtetl, a Journey and a Memorial.
For Weisberg, who as a young woman saw and was emotionally devastated by her grandmother's "Memorial Book," filled with images of Polish Jews who had perished in the Holocaust, this project was a watershed. It established her "voice" as an artist, and confirmed her feeling that as an artist she could be a "witness to history" across time and memory. Like writer/critic Susan Sontag, who in 1945 saw photos of Nazi concentration camps in a book and later wrote that "When I looked at those photos something broke," Ruth's is a Post-Holocaust intellectual. Her art is driven by her sense of empathy towards a profound quest for life's redemptive meanings as the antidote for her glimpse of incomprehensible evil.
Looking across time is both an imaginative act for her and a moral imperative. As Ruth once wrote: "My work demonstrates intense interest in the cycle of life, the continuity of generations, and issues of survival and impermanence."
* * *
The color lithograph Waterborne, created in 1973, is one very personal and revelatory image that suggests myriad themes and possibilities of meaning. While pregnant with her first child, Weisberg floated nude in the pool of her great friends the art patrons Elyse and Stanley Grinstein. In some respects, the lithograph she created from this event could be said to be a record of a performance that deals with emergence, motherhood and birth. In fact, Weisberg had been around performance and dance during her time in Ann Arbor Michigan, and after coming to LA had taken part in a performance workshop with the late Rachel Rosenthal.
In a black and white lithograph made four years later-- La Comedia é Finita--themes of transition are again apparent, but in a much darker context. Weisberg has always taken an interest in cinematic and theatrical settings, and in this case both are at work. A figure of Pierrot, a Commedia Del'Arte character who also appears in the paintings of Watteau, draws back a curtain to reveal the climactic scene of Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise) which was made during the Nazi occupation of Paris. A close examination of the figure of Pierrot, a figure who often serves to suggest an honest witness or interloper, will tell you that "he" was modeled by a "she:" a friend and filmmaker named Laura Vazquez who often took care of Weisberg's children.
Although Weisberg's ability to work on an intimate scale in making drawings and prints is one of the strengths of her oeuvre, Reflections Through Time also features a monumental, mixed media drawing, Island, that is just over four feet tall and seven feet and one half feet wide. Made for Weisberg's 2008 exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum--Ruth Weisberg: Guido Cagnacci and the Resonant Image--it is one of a series of works created to respond intuitively to a painting in the Simon's collection: Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity. Emanating from her conviction that contemporary art is not separate from art of earlier periods, Weisberg conceived Island as a dialogue with a work of art that was very much receptive and alive to her imagination.
"I think it's a great painting," Weisberg says of the Cagnacci. "It has a theatrical sense of ensemble and presentation." Weisberg's drawing isolates two characters from the original canvas--the reclining semi-nude figure of Mary Magdalen and her kneeling sister Martha--and recasts them with herself and her daughter-in-law Laura Darlington. It is a re-enactment, something that is present of many of Weisberg's recent works. In regards to the Cagnacci image, Weisberg explains: "At its core, the
Another of Weisberg's re-enacted works is based on a work by Veronese that Weisberg views as "a very great and troubling painting. Titled The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, which is described by the Frick Collection's website in this way:
At a crossroads, Hercules encountered Vice, who offered a path of ease and pleasure, and Virtue, who indicated a rugged ascent leading to true happiness -- a moral lesson underlined by the motto on the entablature at upper left: [HO]NOR ET VIRTUS/[P]OST MORTE FLORET (Honor and Virtue Flourish after Death). The long talons of Vice have ripped the hero's stocking. A jagged knife leans against the breast of the sphinx supporting her throne.
Weisberg's painting removes the figure of Evil, and replaces it with a self-portrait that glances toward the viewer. "It's significant when someone in a painting is looking at YOU," Weisberg observes.
"While so many artists want to make history by being contemporary through stylistic gyration," explains art dealer Jack Rutberg, "Ruth Weisberg makes history contemporary. Art history is her source of inspiration as it converges with her own history." Looking through Weisberg's show it is very clear that not only is she deeply interested in finding the life and meanings of culture over time, while seeking to involve others in her sense of connection.
"A combination of intellectual and emotional is what I want" says Weisberg. As her show demonstrates, she balances those two aspects with considerable confidence and grace.
Now on View
Reflections Through Time
JACK RUTBERG FINE ARTS
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Jack Rutberg Fine Arts
357 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90036
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