Earlier this spring I was able to make a studio visit—along with a group of MFA students from the Laguna College of Art and Design—to the studio of artist Catherine Ruane in northeast San Diego County. Our timing couldn’t have been better, as Catherine was just putting the final touches on a project that had occupied her for nearly a year: a series of drawings on circular panels that describes the symbiotic relationship between the Joshua Tree and the yucca moth. Titled Dance Me to the Edge, the finished work is now through the end of July at MOAH in Lancaster as part of the exhibition Made in the Mojave.
Catherine works in a spacious, converted garage and although she admitted to doing some cleaning before our visit, looking over the carefully arranged art supplies on Catherine’s shelves I got the sense that the rigor and clarity of her art is backed up by a serious sense of organization. Before looking at the work on the wall, it was also interesting to inspect the custom-made round panels that Catherine had fabricated for her project. They feature an archival board surface cradled by wooden supports.
As Catherine explained to us when discussing the arrangement of her panels—a 50 inch center and a dozen 12 inch diameter roundels—she had been inspired by the famous mirror in Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding with its surrounding stations of the cross.
Standing in front of Dance Me to the Edge, Catherine discussed the delicate cycle and balance that she had attempted to portray.
This set of drawings is a story of a long-lived plant referred to as the Joshua Tree and a tiny moth who lives only a few short days. This is a story about cooperation, mutual dependence and survival. The large center drawing is the Joshua Tree in blossom. Surrounding the center drawing are twelve smaller drawings detailing the moth, the blossom, the sky during pollination, and the bark and leaf qualities of the Joshua Tree itself. The Joshua Tree blossoms in the late spring and its flowers are efficiently pollinated by the Joshua Moth. No other pollinator can do the job. In return the plant houses the moth’s eggs and provides nourishment with its seeds until the little bug matures with wings and can fly to other trees the following spring. If either the tree or the insect should go extinct the other will follow.
Seeing Catherine’s velvety surfaces up close was remarkable: she uses both graphite and charcoal, sometimes blended with a cloth. Motivated by both a deep interest in the beauty and ecological balance of the Mojave Desert, and by her dedication to her craft, Catherine Ruane spent an estimated 1,000 hours crafting Dance Me To The Edge. If you weren’t fortunate enough to see it in her studio/garage with us, a drive to Lancaster is highly recommended.
Made in the Mojave, May 13-July 30, 2017
Museum of Art and History (MOAH) 665 W. Lancaster Blvd Lancaster, CA 93534 www.lancastermoah.org