Ruth Hunter works in oils and cold wax to create multi layered paintings imbued with emotion and spiritual contemplation. She is an intuitive artist whose paintings transcend the physical world and portray a wider vision of awareness. She jokes that mark making was her first language. When talking to this quiet and introspective artist, you can tell it is also the one she is most comfortable using to express herself.
She works by applying marks, building up, and layering color fields until the imagery presents itself to her. Her subject matter is the figure, but her intent is also to evoke memory through color and light. Although she recognizes herself as a colorist, it is the gestural mark making that builds the work. The compulsive mark making is the construction of the painting, but it is then the color that is the conduit for the emotion. She explains, "I never work with an idea in mind, I just start to paint and let the color guide me. The stories develop as I work. It's very much a conversation between me and the painting."
Ruth spent her early years growing up in a trailer home in east Texas. She recounts the vision of the small child she remembers herself being. “No one ever took a photograph of it, at least not one that I have ever seen, but if you were to use your imagination; there in the wet place near our trailer home, she wore white cotton and was covered from knees to neck with the black clay of the prairie land under an East Texas sky…. That would be me, alright, a child in 1968 with the high cheeked face from distant native heritage, and I could not get enough of it, and deaf I was to anyone who might object… I tell this now with a smile, knowing as I do, how little has changed, knowing how deeply enthralled I become with the tactile pleasure that comes from pushing paint around, and still, at the end of a day, I am covered with it.”
Later her father built a home in the then rural Dallas suburb of Forney. The property had acreage and they kept cows and horses. Ruth and her older sibling were somewhat neglected with an alcoholic mother and a father who worked long hours running a heating and air conditioning business. Ruth found herself on her own a lot – time which she spent outdoors exploring the wild areas of their property. She feels a deep connection to nature and the elements, and her work is often an endeavor to express a memory of the light and atmosphere of times past.
In reference to her claim to a distant native heritage, she is acutely aware of the politics surrounding such an assertion and in no way wants to insert herself into a culture in which she was not raised. It is however a part of her family history and mythology. Ruth explains that, “I do not seek inclusion by mentioning my native heritage but, I know in my heart that it is a part of who I am as I came into this world. It is part of my nature. It is the identity of my soul.”
Ruth’s childhood was formative in how she developed her visual language and approach to painting. She says, “I am grateful to have found my intimates among the sky, the clouds - how the shadows moved across the rolling prairie, the grasses, trees, brooks and ponds, the animals I encountered, birds especially. You might say, much of what I learned as a child I learned here. My grandmother would call me by a secret name, and I asked her what it meant. She said, “She Talks To Woodpeckers’” which made me laugh. As a family, we would visit her in the country outside Oklahoma City, where I got to spend time with her and she would put a pencil in my hand, showing me how to draw things.”
Drawing and painting became an outlet for a lonely child to express herself. She tells how this became a way to tell her secrets, when no one was listening and paying her no mind. In art she found a world in which she could escape. Although never taken to museums she pawed over art books and studied any painting she saw to explore how it was created. She studied art at community college and became a working artist.
There is no time she has not made her living as an artist. She began by sketching portraits on the street, and travelled the US plying her trade. She settled in Augustine, Florida when her daughter was born and moved to Savannah, Georgia when it was time for her daughter to begin school. Here she found a vibrant art scene and was able to make the transition from street artist to having gallery representation.
In 2017 hurricane Maria displaced Ruth and her husband Raymond, who is also an artist, from their home. With their income already hindered by the recession the couple packed up their old Chevy pickup and headed to the West Coast, and to Portland where Nina, their daughter now lives. Ruth and Raymond now share a studio in their apartment in Portland. Brumfield Gallery is grateful for their journey and the opportunity to represent Ruth Hunter’s work.