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RUTH OWENS

Be Kind to Yourself ||| Exhibition Video

1 April - 29 May 2021

Video by Matthew Spriggs Productions

JOAN MITCHELL CENTER

In the Studio: RUTH OWENS

 

Ruth Owens is a New Orleans-based artist who was in residence at the Joan Mitchell Center during September 2020-January 2021. Filmed at the Joan Mitchell Center in New Orleans, November 2020. 

 

Videography & Editing: Dave Greber - vimeo.com/greber

Editing Assistance: Kendra Thompson

Production Assistance: Jeremy Jones

Biography

[New Orleans, LA :: b.1959, Augsburg, Germany] 

 

Ruth Owens was born in 1959 to a young German woman and a Black serviceman from Georgia. The nomadic military lifestyle of her childhood was complicated by restrictions to mixed families in many communities and laid the basis for the formation of her cultural identity and therefore, her artistic practice.

Owens graduated in 2018 with an MFA from the University of New Orleans after leaving her medical practice of 25 years. She is represented by the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, and belongs to the artist collective, “The Front,” both in New Orleans. Owens’ work is concerned with contributing to and preserving the black archive, and she uses personal super-8 film references in her painting and video art. Artist residencies include the Joan Mitchell Center, the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Studios at MASS MoCA. She is slotted to attend the International Studio and Curatorial Program in NY in 2023. Her work is in the permanent collections of the 21c Museums, Ackland Art Museum at UNC-Chapel Hill, Addison Gallery of American Art, Dale Center for the Study of War and Society, Fidelity Investments Corporate Collection, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

Artist Statement

In the sixties, my father was stationed at a military base in the deep South for several years. Although it was prescribed by law, our mixed race family was perfectly happy to live in an exclusively African-American section of town. Our more respectable African-American neighbors refused to associate with us and we had very few friends, most of whom were marginalized by joblessness and alcoholism. A child of one of these families became a shadowy constant in our home. She had the typical facial features of fetal alcohol syndrome and we cared for her when her own mother was unable to do so. This girl’s struggles with alcoholic family problems echoed my own. We shared feelings of insecurity brought on by the alcoholism of her mother and my father.

 

My paintings and videos are rooted in such pivotal memories from childhood that represent significant psychological moments, set in a culture of racial divide. My family’s personal narrative includes issues like alcoholism which can plague any race or culture. However, as a mixed-race person, cultural power differentials based on race or skin tone (colorism) affect me on a daily basis and must also be considered when telling my story.

 

My communicative tools lie in an expressive and organic method of painting. The surfaces are scratched, left bare, glopped on, and dripped on for a mood consistent with the emotive content of the image. The surface not only becomes a metaphor for the vulnerability of our physical bodies, but it further represents an attempt to manifest the concept of a fluid racial identity.

 

My parents filmed events in my childhood with a Super 8 camera. This footage proves to be a valuable resource in mining my psychological past, and clips from these films serve as reference images for my paintings. To heighten the emotional and visual impact of these images, I use of collage, color alterations, compositional changes, and abstraction.

 

Clips from the Super 8 footage are also used in my video work, along with contemporary clips of my children. Mixing up footage of my children with clips of my childhood causes distortion and confusion of time, and speaks to the idea that past traumas are recorded in genetic memory. The videos inform any exhibition of my oil or casein paintings, and reinforce the feeling of getting an intimate view of a mixed-race family’s personal story through a cultural lens.

Curriculum Vitae

EDUCATION

2018      Master of Fine Arts, Painting, University of New Orleans

1986      MD, Northwestern Medical School

1981      BA, Carleton College, Northfield MN

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2021      Be Kind to Yourself, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans, LA

2020      Black Outdoors, Southeastern Louisiana University Contemporary Art Gallery, Hammond, LA

2019      Good Family, The Front Gallery, New Orleans, LA

2018      Identity Theft, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans, LA

              Baby Love, University of New Orleans Gallery, St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans, LA

2017      Conspiracies, Barrister’s Gallery, St. Claude Avenue, New Orleans, LA

2016      Steppin’ Out, Xavier University Chapel Gallery, New Orleans, LA

 

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

 

2021    “Art After 1950,” Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

             “Art in Embassies,” Embassy of the United States of America, Kampala, Uganda

2020      Suffrage 100, Sue and Eugene Mercy Gallery, Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, CT

              Expanding the Narrative, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA

              Forever is Composed of Nows, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

2019      Louisiana Contemporary, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA

              New Orleans Film Festival, New Orleans, LA

              Welcome to the Afrofuture: Ground Zero, New Orleans African American Museum, New Orleans, LA

              Active Directions of the Mind, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

              The Wizard, Monte Vista Projects, Los Angeles, CA

              Art on Paper, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New York, NY

              True Blue, UNO St. Claude Gallery, New Orleans, LA

2018      You Want a Piece of Me, collaboration with Carlos Rolón and members of The Front Artist

              Collective, in conjunction with Rolón’s show Outside/In, NOMA, New Orleans, LA

              Currents, 2018, curated by Barbara Zucker, A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

              Honey Trap, The Front Gallery, New Orleans, LA

2017      Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, LeMieux Galleries, New Orleans, LA

              Text and Image, Site: Brooklyn Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

              Parse: Southeast Louisiana Juried Student Exhibition, Second Story Gallery, The Healing

              Center, New Orleans, LA

2016      La Femme, curated by Don Marshall, New Orleans Art Center, New Orleans, LA

              Presences, University of New Orleans Masters of Fine Arts Show, UNO St. Claude Gallery,

              New Orleans, LA

2016      NUDE, 8th Annual NUDE exhibition, Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, OH

2015      LA Contemporary, 2015, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA

              panel participant with curator Brooke Davis Anderson

2014      Imago Mundi: New Orleans Repatriation, Prospect.3 New Orleans, New Orleans Museum 

              of Art, New Orleans, LA

              True Colors, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, New Orleans, LA
              Dual Identity, Reynolds Ryan Art Gallery, New Orleans, LA

              megalomania two, Boyd Satellite Gallery, New Orleans, LA

2012      NOLA NOW: The Human Figure, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA

 

RESIDENCIES

2022       Mass MoCA

2020       Joan Mitchell Center, Artist-in-Residence

2019       Addison Gallery of American Art, Artist-in-Residence Program

2018       The Vermont Studio Center

 

COLLECTIONS

21c Museums

Ackland Museum of Art at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Addison Gallery of American Art

Dale Center for the Study of War and Society

Fidelity Investments Corporate Collection

New Orleans Museum of Art

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

John and Dathel Georges

Jeffrey and Walton Goldring

John Gonzales and Patricia Weeks

Arthur Roger

Harold and Kathleen White

Angele Parlange

Sean Cummings

Alexandra Georges

Peter Sather