[Cover image courtesy of John Marchant]
Welcome to Ruth Marten‘s extraordinary world. Using found images, vintage prints and photographs, Marten adds collage, ink and drawing to seamlessly create a surreal new story. Marten’s second UK solo show with the John Marchant Gallery took place at the end of last year at the Eagle Gallery, Farringdon, and you can see selected works in the group show Wunderkammer until 6 January. Marten lives and works in New York.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative routine? Do you have a studio where you do most of your work?
I work out of my room which I have always done. I have no life besides picture making, teaching, friend visiting and swimming.
You search for source material at flea markets and thrift shops. Do you usually start a piece with a found image, or a blank page?
I’ve been finding my prints in Print shops and Flea markets. I do react to something found. Formerly I operated from a theme but now I am much more interested in finding something entirely unexpected.
You have done a lot of work concerning our curious relationship with hair. Would you say you have key themes or obsessions which you return to in your work?
As for the hair obsession, 1987-2003, it was a powerful phenomenon in NY in those years, particularly amongst our African American citizens. Jung determined that hair represented spirit, it is also a universal theme that we all have in common, though all different. It also seemed a form of folk art to me as well as a signifier that we humans are excellent at reading.
How does gender affect your work? And has it affected the way you’re received or reacted to?
Gender. I’m female so that is my filter.
You’ve talked about how the illustrations and images that you work on are products of their time. How does your current show, The Birds, reflect these times?
What do you think will be the future of the arts under the current administration?
Under the so called administration of Trump, it will be a miracle if we survive his venal insanity, let alone have any art to make that is not either pure escapism or having had to go underground. New York City is a bulwark but we shall see.
Do you have a favourite project that you’ve worked on, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m trying to reinvent the wheel, make something more serendipitous and erratic, at the moment.
Your work has been described as a development of the aesthetics of collage favoured by surrealist Max Ernst. Do you see yourself as part of a movement?
Max Ernst died some time ago and one never wants to be a copier. I am a great admirer of the Weimar artists, the Surrealists and Dada. Maybe I am making work influenced by such practitioners but I am very American also in my influences. I like history so enjoy contemplating how culture shapes art.
In the catalogue essay for your 2016 exhibition, Fountains & Alligators, you say “Nobody wants these old pictures and I feel no guilt for my alterations. I do see it see as a collaboration with artists from the past”.
Is there someone in particular you’d like to collaborate with, either in the history of art, or currently?
You are asking me if I feel that I am collaboration with these mostly unknown draughtsmen and etchers who created these wonderful 18th c. prints/ book illustration? Yes!!!!
Rather than collaborate, I would like to have been a friend or assistant to Paul Klee whom I worship. What an inventor!!!!
Do you listen to music when you work, and if so, what’s the soundtrack?
I listen to the radio until I overdose on Trump outrage then I watch (or rather put on in the background), classical music or movies. Or I stare at the ceiling. Also, the swimming pool is my meditation and where I cook up titles and new ideas.
And finally… What’s your favourite colour?
Did you really ask me what my favorite color is?!
Never ask that question!
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