Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Kathy Ruttenberg: The Earth Exhales

Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Kathy Ruttenberg: The Earth Exhales

Article excerpt

KATHY RUTTENBERG IS AMONG THE MANY CERAMISTS CURRENTLY ENGAGED WITH figuration, a focus in clay that seems to rise to the top every couple of decades and is certainly strong now. She creates imaginative-to-bizarre beings posed in strange-to-surreal scenes. The work is characterised by disparities of scale, some unpleasant surfaces, a gender or sexual subtext and a lineage traceable to Gothic grotesquery, Greek mythology or the original gruesome versions of the Grimms' fairy tales. Every female wears pointy-toed shoes with heels of various heights on her impossibly tiny feet, the males have animal heads and many bodies are perforated, with one hacked into segments. It is disconcerting: the works evoke engrossing narrative filaments that never quite weave into a strand, leaving the viewer tantalised but puzzled.

One might ask why these need to be in clay. Ruttenberg called the show The Earth Exhales and maybe that anthropomorphism is enough of a reason: tying humans to nature is, shall we say, grounded in clay. Grounded, in fact, is the title of a 2009 ceramic and bronze female figure. It is a blued-eyed blonde woman in a green dress, lying on her back, lifted slightly off the surface by her head, elbows and the rigid skirt from which her fishnet-stocking-clad legs emerge. From her breasts rise stylised grey oak trees with one leaf on each branch. An orange lizard rests on her left forearm. On her skirt are flowers with six or seven lavender petals and a face at the centre. Here person becomes vegetation (an exaggeration of the natural process of recycling nutrients) and vegetation becomes person (so far, only a fantasy). There is a blue moth on the lady's left leg, a yellow bird on her right hand and a pink moth above. She stares wide-eyed, drugged or dreamy.

Here is another example, certainly the showiest on view. Overgrown is a female figure on the wall. Above her impassive face is a gigantic Marie-Antoinettescale hairdo consisting of branches on which birds perch. There are leaves outlined in green on her skin and three-dimensional leaves, a bunny and flowers on her skirt. An owl sits on her left wrist and the flower she holds in her right hand has a face at centre, more stylised than her own.

Another: Submission consists of a male figure in striped pants kneeling on an iron table. On its stretchers are decorative heads with spiky black hair that is the inverse of the shaggy mane of the limp female cloth-and-clay doll that he holds in both arms, like a dead body or a sacrificial offering. The male has a deer head with (real?) antlers; there is a hole more or less where his heart would be (for access?) and tattoos or relief picture-stories embellish his bare torso. …

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