The Intimate Interiors of Ruth Morgan Arietta
Interview by Sanderson Morgan, SICA-USA Board Member
This is to introduce Ruth to SICA-USA readers and viewers. She resides with her husband, Rick Arietta (also an artist), in San Anselmo, California. Ruth is a member of Subud California at Marin.
Morgan: The more I look at your images the more I discover. Your scenes of domestic ease and a relaxed routine contain humor, painterly effects and compositions that are filled with detail from side to side and top to bottom.
Do these paintings show you, your husband, and pets in your home?
Arietta: When I work on a painting, everything in it usually shows aspects of myself. The characters aren’t meant to show specific people. As for the pets, I don’t have them because with the little time I have left in the day to paint, I couldn’t give them the attention they deserve. The animals I portray are usually the pets of family and friends.
Still, we have everything we need, 2020
Acrylic on Canvas
11” x 14”
Morgan: In “Still, we have everything we need” we see into a bathroom that is also a library, an attentive dog and a partial view of a man centered in the next room reading a newspaper. Then there is a woman checking her teeth in the mirror! The intimacy warms my heart but it is so funny! I see this everydayness in most of your works but it is the humorous visual decisions that are most communicative!
Is there an intentional plan as you begin a painting or does the visual humor come of its own?
Arietta: I love this painting. The library in the bathroom shows a library I would LIKE to have there, though our house IS full of books. It’s true that I have for a long time tried to make an image of someone scrutinizing themselves in a mirror, and in this painting I sort of got it right. I like the idea of my paintings conveying the human-ness, the funny intimate moments, the things I imagine we all do. I think that when a person works on a painting and lets go of themself and lets something bigger than themself come through, they enter a trance-like state and things happen in the painting that are beyond themself the painter. There is intent, and things sometimes unintended come through. It is a truly spiritual experience. My art has saved me more times in my life than I can say.
Simple Gifts, 2021
Acrylic on Canvas
11” x 14”
Morgan: In “Simple Gifts” we are looking into a very comfortable room with an array of patterned textiles here and there, a variety of carpets, scones and coffee. The sitters are reading, there is another library and some amazing wallpaper.
This seems like Sunday morning bliss. The white dog and the black and white cat, a subtle comedy team, are perhaps wondering why we, the viewer, are looking at all this? They make me a little self conscious.
How was this wonderful image developed?
Arietta: I have been influenced a lot by the paintings of Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vulliard. Bonnard often makes table tops with fantastic things on them in a wonky and delightful perspective, and people at ease around a table. I’ve always wanted to convey people at a wonderfully stocked table full of food dishes, flower bouquets, plates, and coffee cups, or even just the table by itself.
Part of my painting process is at first laying down the contents and perspective of the room or rooms. Sometimes I have to put the painting aside for a while and look at it later. I will find sometimes that the proportions need to be altered, the contents of the room revised. Maybe there is a kitchen interior view that makes the painting too busy and needs to be replaced by a window, as in “Simple Gifts”.
I do a lot of scraping since I’ m working with acrylic on canvas. One color will balance another and when it’s changed, other colors and patterns need to be correspondingly altered. A lot of the textiles in my paintings are textiles I’ve actually made. Sometimes these textiles have color combinations I would not normally dare use in a painting, but since they work on the textile I sometimes use it in the painting, and it works.
The wallpaper in this painting must have come from ‘out of the blue’. I love it, and the inner expressions of the animals. They just happened.
Down Time, 2021
Acrylic on canvas
11” x 14”
Morgan: I am seeing, in “Downtime”, a painting with many of the familiar features of your works such as the patterning, billowing curtains and the reading man in the next room, but there is something different here.
In the previous paintings we see the extensive use of outlining in red which is an interesting visual device you use. In “Down Time” the lining is in blues and greens -quietly cooling things down. Could you talk about why and how you use this lining?
Arietta: When I start a painting, I often sketch with a brush the images in red. A lot of the time the images and outline are scratched out in the process but I do like the visual effect of the red outline. Sometimes, however, a red outline, billowing curtains, or a partial person in the next room are devices that I know to work. I’m trying not to do the same thing. I had quite a time with the kimono the lady is wearing, and the colors, but it works well with the whole.
It’s funny how when I finish a painting it becomes an entity in and of itself. I’m detached from it and I can say “I like this painting” as if someone else did it.
Morgan: So there is a lot of going on as you make these complex pictures.
Oh yes, Bonnard with his bathtubs and table tops, he loved those oval shapes! Both he and Vulliard really used furnishings, walls and windows along with people inhabiting the space to make some fascinating compositions. Now you are carrying that forward! You have really ‘seen’ what they are doing and adding new dimensions to the endeavor.
I’m looking at “Little Piece of Paradise” now. Again we see the dog and cat team staring at the viewer and a pattern filled composition with blues as a prominent color. Again we are seeing a very complete picture of happiness and being contentedly human. I think the thoroughness in these paintings is a meditation on a human situation, a human who is in good condition and being right where they ought to be in the great master plan of existence.
By now, after making this series, what are you seeing emerging from the paintings that you could not have imagined as you moved into them?
Little Piece of Paradise, 2021
Acrylic on canvas
10” x 8”
Arietta: That’s a hard question. With the painting of acrylic on canvas, and with the medium allowing me to scrape, layer, and change, I am always surprised by the patterns and painterly effects. The images I end up with always surprise me. I also see repetitions that make me want to move onto totally different paintings, even though I am not finished with this series and want to do some more of them.
I am reminded of something a wonderful teacher of mine said in 1974. He explained that to him, one of the important things learned when going to art school was to forget what you learn when painting. I think what he meant was that sometimes, because of practice and technique, paintings become stifled and technically perfect. They lose their risk; their joy. The painter needs to be like the fool on the tarot card stepping blindly over a cliff. This is also a spiritual process.
I have over and over painted a series of paintings that progressively became technically perfect and lifeless. I have needed to forget and start over by painting perfectly dreadful paintings. The one thing I don’t lose in painting is the self confidence that comes from doing something over and over till I get it right…sort of. I would say that in the process of painting I change as much as the painting does.
Morgan: This has been a wonderful description of your artistic process, thank you for sharing so many things about it. It is also clear to me that you bring these images from your most intimate self and I feel that is what makes them so pleasant and familiar to the viewer, we feel at home.
Home Sweet Home, 2021
Acrylic on canvas
14” x 11”