At Waterstone Gallery, we talked with Ruth Hunter about her solo exhibition “Of Heart and Hand.” Hunter is a new member of the gallery, who traveled from Texas to the east coast and eventually arrived in Portland as a climate refuge. Process and material are inseparable parts of this body of work. Working with oil and cold wax, Hunter seldom starts with a clear idea but lets her intuition and mark-making lead her to the destination. She paints on panels, which can handle her intensive “interrogation” better. 

In Blue World, that search took a while. She was struggling until the hint of blue guided her to catch the elusive idea of whales. From there, she added the white horizontal lines for crashing waves. The abstraction comes from the juxtaposition of an aerial view with a side view, where the curved line serves as both the length of a beach and the depth of an ocean. If her penchant for intense colors and subtracted compositions appear naive, the painting surface speaks of sophistication – a combination of abandonment and extreme care. 

Indeed, Hunter’s works are meant to be seen in person. They don’t just hang on a wall, they set the tone in a room. The rich colors and the textured surfaces have so much depth from the physicality of the painting itself. The scintillating effect reminds me of Adolphe Monticelli. The figurative abstraction, on the other hand, recalls the efficiency of Milton Avery in their gestural and broody quality. 

 

In Gathering Woman, the forest is thinning out in the fall, penetrable enough to let light and haze render the background a tapestry of texture. Hunter treats the mysterious figure with the same facility as the rest: layers are built up and then dappled, scrambled, and scratched away to blend into an autumnal gray. Yet, at the right corner, a vividly rendered red wing black bird jumps into the picture frame, like the sound of a pianoforte breaking the passage of pianissimo. 
A few small paintings are grouped together near the window. They are like memory paintings. Isn’t that funny that feelings emerge where details recede? In Under the Spell of the Black Tea, two figures seem to have a good time. It takes guts to scratch through a small painting and make the scribbled lines part of the storytelling. And we know that the black tea must be good, through a hint of red from one chair leg, among otherwise a sea of grays.

Article Written by Urban Art & Antiques - March 9, 2024

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