[New Orleans, LA :: b.1959, Augsburg, Germany]
RUTH 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 Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, and belongs to the artist collectives: A.I.R. Gallery in Brooklyn and “The Front” in New Orleans.
Artist residencies include the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, MA in 2019, the Vermont Studio Center in 2018, the Studios at MASS MoCA in 2021, and The Joan Mitchell Center 9/20 until 2/21. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Notable solo shows include “Good Family,” 2019, The Front Gallery; “Identity Theft,” 2018, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery; “Baby Love,” 2018, University of New Orleans Gallery; “Conspiracies,” 2017, Barrister’s Gallery, New Orleans; and “Stepin’ Out,” 2016, Xavier University Chapel Gallery, New Orleans. Ruth has participated in group exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Addison Gallery of American Art, and the New Orleans Film Festival, 2019.
“Debbie Do Dallas” read the handwritten label on a plain black VCR tape tucked in amongst my father’s collection of westerns and adventure movies. Viewing those words as a teenager caused me untold anguish, equally because of the grammatical failure to make subject and verb agree, as the thought of my father watching sexually explicit content. This intersection of personal familial relationships, and the cultural context that leads to inequality of resources, such as access to educational opportunities between those of African and European descent, is what underlies the impetus for my work.
Straddling the divide between Teutonic and African ancestries, my concerns are more relevant than ever in our current polarized political milieu, and I attempt to tell my story from an intensely personal viewpoint. An approach to art making that includes both the very personal familial history and the interaction of that family with dominant cultural forces defines the crux of my work. It is with merciless candor that I bring untold family secrets, infidelities, addiction, and mental illness to the fore. Each painting is rooted in a pivotal memory from childhood and represents a psychologically intense moment of personal influence, set in a culture of racial divide.
Negotiating psychological and cultural tensions is my driving force, and my communicative tools lie in a very 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 embrace a fluidity of racial identity in order to subvert the prescribed identity dictated by our dominant culture. A Gerhardt Richter-like scrape of facial features denies placement of a figure within the confines of a preordained racial construct.
Although we were not wealthy, my parents purchased a super-eight camera to record the now requisite footage of our childhood birthday parties and backyard antics in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This footage has proved to be an extremely valuable resource in mining my psychological past, and clips from these films have served as reference images for my paintings. However, instead of faithfully copying the images in a straightforward representational manner, I have attempted to heighten the emotional and visual impact by use of collage, color alterations, and compositional changes.
The corruption of the super-eight film over time is actually an asset in my painting practice. It results in a loss of a significant degree of visual information allowing me to experiment with abstraction in the figure and its surroundings. This abstraction and departure from the representational can go a long way in helping to communicate a fluidity of racial identity, to set the mood for a psychological investigation of memories past, and to speak to the vulnerability of brown and black bodies. Further, the abstraction opens up possibilities for the manipulation color and composition in the service of visual pleasure. Such beauty provides an invitation to the viewer to, perhaps, open up to this racially and culturally complicated family, which arguably stands to represent the norm, more and more, as time goes by.
2018 Master of Fine Arts, Painting, University of New Orleans
1986 MD, Northwestern Medical School
1981 BA, Carleton College, Northfield MN
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
2019 Art on Paper, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New York, NY
True Blue, UNO St. Claude Gallery, New Orleans, LA
Good Family, The Front, 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
John and Dathel Georges
Jeffrey and Walton Goldring
John Gonzales and Patricia Weeks
Harold and Kathleen White