Ruth Hamill, Everything is Fluid, Chicago Art Source Gallery, April 6-June 17, 2017
“Finally, by the sea, where God is everywhere, I gradually calmed.” That’s what Patti Smith writes in her memoir Just Kids after the death of Robert Mapplethorpe.
My work is guided by the bodies of water that have filled so many big and little moments in my life – Lake Michigan, the Atlantic, Lake Okoboji in Iowa and the small lake I live and paint on now in New Jersey.
But it’s about transiency. Water, in my work, is a stand in for life.
I started this work on paper for two very practical reasons. I am going to Thailand on an artist residency at the end of 2017. This is my fifth residency in 10 years and all the others have been in the U.S. I had been working primarily in encaustic for the past 7 years. It is an unruly and cumbersome medium that requires bulky materials and lots of equipment. And I over pack. That combo won't fly going to a remote Thai artist residency. I needed to find another medium and I had to work on paper or I’d have nothing to do in an Asian artist studio. At the same time, the opportunity for a solo at the gallery in Chicago that has been showing my work for two years came up, along with the request that I create work on paper to be shown with the encaustic pieces.
Even with all my distracted-artist character traits, I remain a practical person and a lover of coincidence. So paper it was. I got out calligraphy ink I'd been looking at and wanting to use for two years. I researched paper and printmaking. Researched some more then dove in. Playing with the materials, experimentation and an absent-minded-professor lifestyle obsessing over what I was doing -- and why -- ensued in the studio and continued for many months.
This work on paper directly followed my wave work in encaustic and oil, which is about transience, the moment, and the illusion of the wave. It is about the illusion of the now. There it is; a wave, "in the flesh." But the beauty of a wave is gone by the time our eyes send the image to our brain. It is so dynamic, that wave, deep down and on the surface, that any static depiction of it is pure fiction. My work is pure fiction.
The wave paintings are about the illusion that anything in life is static. They are a visual reminder that absolutely every living thing and every life is in constant change. I want these paintings to remind that we might as well embrace it, this constant change. It is beautiful, after all.
These works on paper take that idea a step further. They are about the accumulation of these ever-changing moments, interactions, experiences that make up a life. I look at each piece as a life. Some are simple, cleanly layered: young. Some are messy and chaotic and so layered that they warrant a very close look. All start with a base of watercolor and/or gouache: our givens at birth, such as family, DNA, genealogy and geography. Some pieces are simply layered with lovely, swirling, irregular patterns of circles. These represent the people, places and things that happen in a life. These pieces are about a short arc of life: infants, children, young adults.
The more complex pieces represent the wild variations of a longer arc of life caught while being lived. They each represent an individual life, with what we are born into as a base and then layers of various inks, ending with relief printing, which suggests the obvious, imprinting.
This, like all my work, shares the commitment I bring to my artistic practice to develop work that relies on my own rigorous, original take on traditional materials. In addition, all of my work relies on using my life’s energy to make every mark with my own hand so that the finished work lives and breathes. I believe in taking the slower, more difficult, most individual path to creating a piece of art.
Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” As in water, so in life.