Ruth Chambers at the Willock and Sax Gallery, Banff

I am a great admirer of the Willock and Sax Gallery in Banff, Alberta for many reasons, including their consistent support of ceramics.  Each of us knows that exhibitions are planned well in advance but the current April Flower shows seems more than appropriate after the area got hit with snow yesterday.  Each of us needs our mood brightened at the end of April when friends all over the world have been celebrating the arrival of spring for some months now.

One of the ceramic artists whose work is being shown at the Willock and Sax is Ruth Chambers.  Ruth spent a month last year working at the Ceramic Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark while she was on leave from her position at the University of Regina.  Ruth hand-builds porcelain, often multi-coloured, firing to cone 6.  The gallery’s online catalogue states:

“Ruth Chambers creates bulbs and flowers out of delicately coloured porcelain at various stages of their growth. She carefully considers and skillfully constructs sculptures of extreme detail. Continuing research into the tradition of still life and its requisite considerations of space, form and time permeate her micro-compositions of fragile, improbable porcelain configurations. In this way, the artist addresses ideas of beauty and temporality.” 

I am personally enthralled at the patience, the observation, and dexterity it takes to manipulate a clay that often doesn’t want to be controlled.  There is a softness, a gentleness in the way that Ruth handles the colours but the underlying core has to be related to Vanitas, the transience of life genre of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.  In this way, Ruth pays homage to the women like Rachel Ruysch who popularized that genre in her depiction of grand bouquets full of blooming and dying flowers.

Unlike many ceramic sculptors who have been pushing the size of their objects beyond the colossal, Ruth has kept some of the pieces life size.  One bulb looks like it is just beginning to sprout is 2 x 2 x 1.l75 inches.  Ruth has captured the moments after dormancy when the tunic (skin-like covering that protects the fleshy scales) and the shoots come alive.  The tunic is translucent; you can almost feel it crumble between your fingers if touched.

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There are twelve porcelain sculptures in all ranging from single bulbs to fanciful lidded cups with tulip knobs, footed bowls, and an amazing piece titled, Still Life with Snow Peas, Avocado, and Strawberries (feature image of this blog).  

Ruth studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, receiving her MFA from the University of Regina in 1994.  She is currently the Associate Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of Regina.

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It is so great to see support for Canadian women working in clay.

Photo credit:  Willock and Sax Gallery

 

Hospitalfield, Day 9 The Colours in the walls, on the trees, and in our heads

Painters must just go mad once they begin to look at the colour in their kit and then, every time they turn they must see shades in the most unexpected places.  For the past couple of days besides being so influenced by the house and the sea, the natural environment that surrounds this great house is full of incredible surprises.  Like looking at a grey and black wall and suddenly noticing a tiny square of yellow.

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Or the moss (or is it lichens?) growing on the cast iron stairs at the back of the building?

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Or the range of earth colours in the bricks?  Why am I so surprised by this?  Because in Canada everything is monotone when you look at the bricks from a distance.  Here, it is very much different.  And it makes you stop and notice.

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And sometimes the face of a brick just falls off…

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And then there are the mushrooms…

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All of these have permeated my work, and it has been grand to create layers and layers of slip trying to capture what only Mother Nature does best.

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So all of the images above, really have put into motion a real change in my work!  It is like crossing over to a totally new experience.

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And speaking about colour, I promised to write to you about the impact of bitumen.  Bitumen is nothing more than asphalt, a black viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.  Some of us call it tar.  In the 19th century, artists were trying to get the blackest black they could get, so they added bitumen to their paint.  At the time it certainly gave them what they worked so hard to achieve, but today, the bitumen is darkening the pictures to the point that most of the figures have been obliterated.  This can really be seen in the work below by Robert Scott Lauder titled, The Trial of Effie Deans.  Lauder lived from 1803-1869 and was a member of the Scottish Royal Academy.  He was a personal friend of Patrick Allan-Fraser, the owner of this house.  Effie Deans is one of the characters in Walter Scott’s novel, The Heart of Midlothian. There is a story that all historical painters in Scotland took their subjects from Walter Scott’s novels where those in England use Shakespeare.  I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but this house is undoubtedly filled with themes from Scott’s books.  Sometimes the name is Jeanie.  She was the first female protagonist of Scott’s to come from the very lower classes.  The book is set about the Old Tolbooth Prison, and the events of the Porteus Riots form the underlying backdrop.

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There are apparently figures that have entirely disappeared from the middle and the far right.

We have the co-curator from the Dundee Art Gallery coming to visit us this evening.  Peter is planning to check out our studios and have a chat.

I want to congratulate Allan Whyte from Glasgow who shares my studio.  Allan just received word that his application for a residency in Berlin was successful.  He will be spending three months in one of the great creative venues, ZK/U.  Everyone is delighted.