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Dorothy Ruddick


Dorothy Ruddick

By Kevin Scott

Recent Work is Dorothy Ruddick’s first exhibit at the Richard York Gallery. It includes paintings, bas-reliefs, and sculpture.

In many of her artworks of the last two decades, Ruddick used silk, cotton, and wool thread to create painterly abstractions on linen canvas. Blurring the line between easel painting and embroidery, these highly praised pieces combined stitching, drawing, and sculptural qualities in a style that pushed "fiber art" into the mainstream of contemporary abstract painting.

In her latest work, Ruddick takes her long fascination with cloth and clothing in a new direction – not only in her painting, but in another medium, sculpture.

In all of her new pieces, unlike her abstractions of the past, Ruddick starts with recognizable subject matter – the drapery used in classical art to create the illusion of the human body. She submits these familiar images to the flatness of a gessoed panel and to a distinctly un-classical sculpting media of her own – polymer, dry pigment, and papier mache – with a modern analytic eye. (Ruddick studied painting with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College in the late Forties). The curves and folds of drapery – an obsession of Western Art – are examined not only for their figurative uses, but also for their formal mysteries.

In her newest paintings, Ruddick works in oil on gessoed panels. Her friezes of female figures pay their respects to classical and Renaissance masters even as their truncated forms and ethereal draughtsmanship reveal them to be the work of a very contemporary sensibility.

The bas-reliefs in Ruddick’s latest exhibit take the issues investigated in the paintings into yet another dimension. Liberated from the narrative work of her classical models, Ruddick uses the bas-reliefs to experiment with serial imagery and variations on non-figurative themes.

Ruddick’s sculptures echo the Greeks in their subject matter, of course, but their delicate craft and fragmentary beauty have as much in common with Bonnard, Degas, and Giacometti as they do with Phidias. Moreover, the female figure underlying Ruddick’s drapery is seldom Goddess-like or ideal. The real female body, imperfect but beautiful, is celebrated with understated poignancy.

It was only in the past year that Ruddick decided to take her sculpture from the miniature to the monumental. "It wasn"t modesty that delayed me," she says. "I was entranced – I still am – with the medium of papier mache over a modeled figure. It’s expressive in a very different way from bronze. Smaller sculptures are like lyric poems. A big bronze is an epic. I’m interested in exploring both."

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