Monday, October 4, 2010

Ruth Ann Reese: A Story to Tell

by Patty Sheppard

Riddles of Becoming
St. Louis Community College Meramec, Kirkwood, MO
August 23-October 31, 2010

I think that in each of us there is a story that we want to tell. Each of us tells it in our own unique way. A mother may tell her story to her child in her own words, little by little, as the years unfold. An artist may relate their story in a different way than a musician or a historian. Rhythmic patterns narrate the repetitive acts of the artist that made them and hand made items preserve the marks of the maker’s hands and tools. Images float across the surface of a painting in many colors, shapes and forms. These patterns and images are like a story waiting to be told.

Ruth Reese. La Chusa. 9"x7"x8”. Photo by Ruth Reese.

Ruth Ann Reese has been telling stories since she was a little girl; initially through drawings, her first works of art. She became a student of words, myths, and literature, then chose to speak within the discipline of sculpture and her chosen medium: clay. Clay is so seductive and soft to work with; it can retain a visible softness, frozen in the firing. Ruth’s figures pause, frozen in their pose, halted in their thoughts. They seem to whisper to the viewer the secrets hidden behind their stony exteriors. Patterns and florals appear and disappear on the surfaces, spilling out into the exterior from inside. The stories are set up for you to finish in your own way. Figures and vessels drip with pearlescent surfaces, shiny dotted and floral patterns, outlined checks. Like a vignette within a play; or a scene (complete with costumes, set design and actors) about to be reenacted, Reese’s work challenges my mind and indulges my eyes.

Clown and the Chimera II. Earthenware, 23"x10"x6”. Photo by Ruth Reese.

In The Clown and the Chimera, an architectural piece based on a box-like form, a larger figure with a soft, delicate hand reaches around a crumbling structure, beckoning you to look inside where a small goat-woman (chimera) with a crown looks from within, through an open window. Just as in a dream, these figures can evoke both comfort and trepidation. Chimeras, which come from Greek mythology, sometimes represent a foolish or impossible fantasy. I found myself weaving my own ending to the story that Ruth has set up in her sculpture. There are two pieces like this, one with red and orange flowers decorating the medieval structure and a large “clown” figure emerging from its exterior. A giraffe looks around the yellow, red and blue checked structure, while a bird and rattle accompany the clown in the other. The richly patterned surfaces draw me further into the story and remind me of cloisonné jewelry and patterned fabrics at the same time.

Ruth Reese. Clown and the Chimera I. Earthenware, 23"x9.5"x6”. Photo by Ruth Reese.

A large figure with the tail of a lobster rests in a seated position, with outstretched hand. This sculpture, adorned with clinging sea life, is the largest in the exhibit, about the size of a young child. Spirals and snakelike formations adhere to her body as if she were either underwater or had just emerged from the deep. Faded, bleached out colors give her the appearance of an ancient goddess while her soft facial expression creates a deceivingly youthful and human appearance.

Ruth Reese. Sphinx. Earthenware, 20"x11"x4”. Photo by Ruth Reese.

Three flat vases, La Chusa: Silent Call, Sphinx, and a mermaid vase entitled Antargatis, are less sculptural, more decorative than the others with shiny narratives floating on their surfaces. They tell combinations of stories about goddesses and a Sphinx, the first mermaid (Antargatis) and their symbols. The intricate incising and drawing tells their story like a detailed tapestry or embroidery, rich in color and imagery. La Chusa appears in the display again, as the small, completely white sculpture of an owl woman who, in Hispanic folklore, takes away people’s souls when death is near. Her wings are exquisitely rendered in detailed relief.

Ruth Reese. Antargatis. Earthenware, 19"x9"x3”. photo by Ruth Reese.

I asked Ruth if she had a favorite piece: “My favorite piece is the one that I am currently working on in that moment, because of the potential that it holds. An unfinished piece that I am pursuing has a promise within it, a secret to be revealed. The secret could be form, a texture, a symbol, a lesson. . . it’s the adventure of making that keeps me curious, keeps me devoted.”

Ruth Reese. La Chusa: Silent Call. Earthenware, 19"x6"x2.5”. Photo by Ruth Reese.

Ruth’s work is currently on display at St. Louis Community College Meramec in the Humanities East Building. This exhibit is presented in the display case just outside the College’s excellent ceramics department, which is chaired by ceramics virtuoso Jim Ibur, who hand-picked Ruth to teach with him in 2007, and where she continues to teach and inspire students with her work. Ruth was also Jim Ibur’s choice in 2009 for a national ceramics exhibit entitled “Potters as Sculptors/Sculptors as Potters.” which he organized and curated for that year's NCECA Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. For that exhibit, Ruth’s ceramic pieces were exhibited alongside some of the clay artists who have inspired her such as Ron Meyers and Debra Fritts.

Ruth Reese. Nyx, Earthenware, 24"x18"x23”. Photo by Ruth Reese.

Ruth's work has been juried into many local and national shows, such as “Red Heat: Contemporary Works in Clay,” at the Alexandre Hogue Gallery at the University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma (September 30-November 4, 2010), in which her dark crouching figure Nyx is currently on exhibit. Her work is also currently featured at Baltimore Clayworks in the show, “Body and Soul” (October 2-November 13, 2010). Her work was recently featured in the faculty & alumni exhibit, “Pleasant Memories” at Maryville University St. Louis, where she currently teaches clay classes as well. Ruth’s artworks have been published in two books: 500 Plates and Chargers (Lark Books, 2008) and the upcoming 500 Raku (Lark Books, 2011).

Ruth Ann Reese’s work will also be on view in the upcoming exhibits: “Liquid Measure” Main Street Art Gallery, Edwardsville, IL (November 5-27, 2010); “STLCC Meramec Faculty Exhibit” St. Louis Community College Meramec, Kirkwood, MO (November 19-December 9, 2010); and “Art Saint Louis presents Ruth Reese," Fleishman-Hillard, St. Louis, MO (December 17, 2010-February 18, 2011).

Become absorbed in the stories and surfaces and visit Ruth Reese's exhibit "Riddles of Becoming," currently on view at St. Louis Community College Meramec.

Riddles of Becoming” remains on view through October 31, 2010 at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, Humanities East Building (in the glass cases just outside the ceramics room), 11333 Big Bend Boulevard, Kirkwood, MO 63122. 314/984-7632. The building is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Patty Sheppard is a clay artist who currently teaches design classes at STLCC Meramec.

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