In 1959, Ruth Owens was born 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. She will graduate with a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of New Orleans after quitting her medical practice of over 25 years. She will continue her artistic pursuits showing with Jonathan Ferrara Gallery of New Orleans, and participating in an artist collective called "The Front" located in that city's St. Claude art corridor. Further, the well-respected Vermont Studio Center awarded Ruth an artist residency which she will attend in July, 2018.
Notable solo shows include "Baby Love" in 2018 at University of New Orleans Gallery, "Conspiracies" in 2017 at Barrister's Gallery in New Orleans, and "Stepin' Out" at Xavier University Chapel Gallery in 2016.
Ruth Owens has also participated in numerous group shows including the "Currents, 2018," at A.I.R. Gallery, Brooklyn, New York, "Honey Trap," at The Front Gallery, New Orleans, LA, "Image and Text" 2017, at Site: Brooklyn Gallery, Brooklyn, New York, "LA Contemporary, 2015" at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, "Contemporary Artists Respond to the New Orleans Baby Dolls," 2015, at the McKenna Museum of African American Art, "Imago Mundi: New Orleans: Repatriation," Prospect.3 Adjunct at the New Orleans Museum of Art, "True Colors," 2014, at the Ashe Cultural Center, and "NOLA NOW: The Human Figure," 2012 at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans.
The artist says of her work...; "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.