"My main pre-occupations have been time and memory," Ruth recently explained to me; "I'm very interested in the artist's ability to travel through time." While growing up in Chicago--her father was an architect and her politically active mother was "the president of everything"--Ruth was exposed to artistic culture by the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also took her first ten years of art classes. She grew up with the knowledge that her family was part of a diaspora. The sweetness of her early life was both deeply connected to her family's Jewish heritage and also tempered by her growing awareness of the previous generation's tragic losses.
By her fourth class at the Art Institute Ruth had made up her mind to become an artist. It helped that her parents approved of her choice, and also that she was able to study as a teenager with a brilliant drawing instructor: Emmanuel Jacobson. To this day drawing remains central to Ruth's work in all media including printmaking and painting and is an important aspect of her teaching at the USC Roski School of Art and Design.
Because of her attachment to drawing and earlier engagement with Italian Renaissance art, Ruth found herself "out of synch" during her art studies at the University of Michigan. "The choices were Abstract Expressionism or Pop," she recalls. "I was interested in surface and tactility but couldn't have been more remote from Pop." As a woman artist Ruth also became increasingly aware of her relative "invisibility" in the male-dominated art world. After graduate school she held a teaching job at Eastern Michigan University and also received a Ford Foundation grant to research and illustrate a Holocaust-themed book: The Shtetl, a Journey and a Memorial.
For Weisberg, who as a young woman saw and was emotionally devastated by her grandmother's "Memorial Book," filled with images of Polish Jews who had perished in the Holocaust, this project was a watershed. It established her "voice" as an artist, and confirmed her feeling that as an artist she could be a "witness to history" across time and memory. Like writer/critic Susan Sontag, who in 1945 saw photos of Nazi concentration camps in a book and later wrote that "When I looked at those photos something broke," Ruth is a Post-Holocaust intellectual. Her art is driven by her sense of empathy towards a profound quest for life's redemptive meanings as the antidote for her glimpse of incomprehensible evil.
Looking across time is both an imaginative act for her and a moral imperative. As Ruth once wrote: "My work demonstrates intense interest in the cycle of life, the continuity of generations, and issues of survival and impermanence."
The color lithograph Waterborne, created in 1973, is one very personal and revelatory image that suggests myriad themes and possibilities of meaning.
Printed at Cirrus Editions, Waterbourne is a rich masterful print that demonstrates Weisberg's confident drawing and interest in texture. It presents a distinctly feminist consciousness, in which the artist presents herself as having a heightened awareness and sense of control over her own progress towards giving birth while also accepting the fluidity and risk of her situation.
Among the faces in the crowd are those of some of the nearly 1,800 extras hired for the film--including members of the Resistance--many of whom were youthful and starving. Weisberg, who responds intuitively to her source material, is clearly dealing with the collisions between art and life that occurred during the making of the film, and with the idea that art can create an imaginative space in which one can make sense of life's potent mixture of pain and joy. For Weisberg, who was an infant in the relative safety of the United States during the years when this film was made, the print also explores the theme of where she was versus who she might have been.
Although Weisberg's ability to work on an intimate scale in making drawings and prints is one of the strengths of her oeuvre, Reflections Through Time also features a monumental, mixed media drawing, Island, that is just over four feet tall and seven feet and one half feet wide. Made for Weisberg's 2008 exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum--Ruth Weisberg: Guido Cagnacci and the Resonant Image--it is one of a series of works created to respond intuitively to a painting in the Simon's collection: Martha Rebuking Mary for her Vanity. Emanating from her conviction that contemporary art is not separate from art of earlier periods, Weisberg conceived Island as a dialogue with a work of art that was very much receptive and alive to her imagination.
At a crossroads, Hercules encountered Vice, who offered a path of ease and pleasure, and Virtue, who indicated a rugged ascent leading to true happiness -- a moral lesson underlined by the motto on the entablature at upper left: [HO]NOR ET VIRTUS/[P]OST MORTE FLORET (Honor and Virtue Flourish after Death). The long talons of Vice have ripped the hero's stocking. A jagged knife leans against the breast of the sphinx supporting her throne.
"While so many artists want to make history by being contemporary through stylistic gyration," explains art dealer Jack Rutberg, "Ruth Weisberg makes history contemporary. Art history is her source of inspiration as it converges with her own history." Looking through Weisberg's show it is very clear that not only is she deeply interested in finding the life and meanings of culture over time, while seeking to involve others in her sense of connection.
"A combination of intellectual and emotional is what I want" says Weisberg. As her show demonstrates, she balances those two aspects with considerable confidence and grace.
Ruth Weisberg: Reflections Through Time
June 13 - August 29th, 2015
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts Inc.
357 North La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036