Subject Matters

Flower power with Ruthie V.


What: Works by Ruthie V. and Ken Barnes

Where: Smith & Vallee Gallery, 5742 Gilkey Ave., Edison


WHEN: Through Sun., Jan. 27


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Does art need to be ugly or shocking to be taken seriously? So worries the highly talented Ruthie V., whose work has been called “erotic, challenging and frighteningly vulnerable.” But even though she loves flowers, until recently she hadn’t let herself paint them.

She actually apologized that her show at Edison’s Smith & Vallee Gallery is so “disgustingly pretty.” Her only gesture toward “ugly” is the subtle background of “Mud Festival Peonies,” otherwise given over to a glorious riot of pink and red. Her paintings of peonies and orchids give Ruthie the chance to show off her virtuosity. And while she claims that pink and red were suggested by a model’s kimono, aren’t they the colors of her favorite subject—bodies?

“Orchids in Green,” “Orchids in White and Green Glass,” and the wildly clustered blossoms of “Cecily’s Peonies” belie Ruthie’s remark that she’s not an abstractionist—as the orchid stems and the negative space between them succeed equally well as realism or abstraction.

Have you noticed how seldom contemporary artists depict the human figure? Fortunately, Ruthie, being “totally in love with” the human figure, gives us the gorgeous oil painting, “Tessa in Red Flowered Coat,” figure study and flowers together.

Since graduating from Western Washington University in 2008, Ruthie has enjoyed 10 solo exhibits and 27 group shows. She has also taught at the Art Institute of Seattle, Pratt Fine Arts Center, South Seattle College, and more. 

I think she is most proud to have founded the Seattle Artist League. She has partnered with its master print maker, Nikki Barber, in a series of drypoint prints. This difficult and demanding technique dates back to the 15th century and was a favorite of Rembrandt and Mary Cassatt.

Self-taught sculptor Ken Barnes is a biochemist with an MBA in finance, who gave up the search for wisdom to create beauty. His admiration of Brancusi, Noguchi, and Uchida has inspired him to create elegant, expressive works.

Barnes may sculpt a shape he has sketched from nature, using stone which can be easily worked, like expensive Carrara marble. One is his commanding “Relic,” carved from black marble.

Many of his pieces are labeled oyo-something, a term dating from a visit to Toyota City, Japan, where he found a beautiful stone. He cut it down to fit into his suitcase. Still too heavy for the airplane, he lightened it by drilling large holes. Polished, it became a work of art and the first of a series.

Frequently, Barnes chooses local material in which he senses “movement” and carves it to bring out what may be hidden.

What could be more a “part of who we are” than a piece of 60-year-old sidewalk that his neighbor dug up? Barnes knew there might be colorful stream cobbles inside. Once cut and polished, the chunk of “sidewalkite” reveals a wonderful composition of blacks and grays that he entitled “Urban oyo.”

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