Journal: Ruth Freeman: Thumbnail

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I grew up in Oklahoma but spent most of my life in San Francisco. I currently live in Brooklyn, NY. Brooklyn is diverse and I love exploring all the neighborhoods. I lived in Manhattan for two years and Brooklyn feels more personable. I know my neighbors and it's quieter. Right now I am inspired by the bright but faded signage in my Bedstuy neighborhood. I find humor in the weird trash sculptures I see on the sidewalk. I had a car in San Francisco so I missed these smaller scaled nuances. I seriously miss the mild climate of San Francisco. I lived there for over 20 years and I have very close friends there. I see myself returning to California in the near future.

You have a particularly unique process for creating your artwork. How did you know it was the right one to pursue?

I think most artists derive their work from past experiences and it is usually a personal experience. I had a time in my life where I had hit a bottom and had to restart. I realized that I couldn’t control most things. Once I figured that out my anxiety levels dropped. That is when I got out of architecture full time. When I distanced myself from it I could then revisit it and make a statement about the process of design that nearly drove me crazy.

How do you incorporate chance in your creative process?

Most of the process is systematic and I derive my compositions from computer sketches, much like we designed buildings in architecture. I mask off a lot of areas of the painting but the final layer consists of gestural marks not found in the sketches. I really have no idea how the whole piece will look until I remove all the tape. I’m usually quite surprised with the unforeseen conditions created from paint leaks and color combinations on top of each other.

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

Looking at the finished piece for the first few days after completion. My critical voice tends to get the best of me.

How do you choose your materials?

The applicators I use try to emulate digital gestures. I limit the amount of time I spend finishing a painting so a lot of time it forces me to use whatever I have within reach. I try and set up my space with what I think I will need but I usually forget something.

How important is spontaneity in your art?

It makes the whole painting successful as the last step. Otherwise, I would basically be copying a sketch verbatim. I’m always fighting perfection, which can lead me to a failed composition because I lose my intuition.

What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?

Challenging perfection and exploring the process of bringing a virtual image to reality.

What necessities do you require when making your art?

I cherish my large paintbrushes and I just bought a bigger airbrush and compressor. I’ve been using an airbrush for the last year and it best simulates the way I draw on a computer screen. It has a delayed reaction before the paint hits the surface, kind of like my old iPad, which is overloaded so I can’t draw very fast on it. I often listen to the same music over and over during the making of a painting because it has a constant rhythm. I then switch to other music and do the same for the next painting or series of paintings. If I am doing repetitive work like taping, I often force myself to listen only to the ambient sounds in the studio. It keeps me present, like a meditative practice.

I’m always fighting perfection, which can lead me to a failed composition because I lose my intuition.

Ruth Freeman

Have you always worked with digital drafting?

No, I started working in architecture when hand drafting was just starting to take a back seat to computer aided drafting (CAD). I hand drafted all through architecture school. My first employer had us train for months to learn CAD which I used solely for five years. I switched jobs and worked for a smaller firm after that and had to re-learn how to hand draft. We did a lot of hand renderings using one and two point perspectives. They also used computer rendering techniques, so I ended up doing both simultaneously.

How did your old job influence the direction of your current artistic process?

I had become frustrated at the process of design and how overall it relied on digital tools. I was becoming aware that the more realistic our digital imagery became the stranger buildings not only looked but functioned once completed. We could draw things digitally that were impossible to build. For example, you can map wood onto any shape but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can make that shape with wood in reality. Expectations became unrealistic.

How do you see your work relating to expectations and impossibility?

It seems as if we all look at artwork online more these days and because my paintings derive from digital drawings, I often wonder how they are perceived in person versus digitally. It’s as if they have been digitally regurgitated. Perhaps viewers expect to see something that can’t possibly be created in real space. I hope that it creates an awkwardness. I think it does pertaining to depth of field and foreground/background relationships.

Are you formally trained?

Up until three years ago I was self-taught in painting. I did a little painting in architecture school and I did a lot of hand and digital rendering as an architect. In grad school at SVA I was mentored by several painters I have admired for a long time including Gary Stephan, David Row, Marilyn Minter, Rico Gatson and Stephen Maine.

Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?

Of course! I never claim to have any ideas of my own. I wouldn’t have direction unless I constantly discussed the work in my studio or my peer’s studios. Studio visits are crucial for me now that I’m out of grad school. For awhile I was feeling so alone and stuck in my work. I realized I had isolated myself. Probably because I was burned out after school. I haven’t collaborated much, but funny you should ask because I just agreed to do a series with Sam Branden whose work I admire a lot. And it is happening because I had him over for a studio visit!

Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist? Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?

I am influenced by musicians especially jazz musicians like Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. Music is such a pure form of abstraction and I love how jazz artists riff off of each other.

It’s as if they have been digitally regurgitated. Perhaps viewers expect to see something that can’t possibly be created in real space. I hope that it creates an awkwardness.

Ruth Freeman

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

Grad school forced me to work faster and fail a lot. I got more at ease with failure. And then all you can do is get better. My earlier work shows hesitation and a need to be perfect. This made me work slowly and often times I would give up on a painting or overwork it. I’ll always unconsciously strive toward perfection because it is my nature but now I can play with it creatively. Hopefully I’ll figure out more ways to allow imperfections in the compositions.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.

I like to work in four-hour increments, which basically breaks down to a half or full day in the studio. I get up fairly early and walk my dog, Clyde, for an hour before we arrive at the studio. Sometimes I don’t go to the studio until late morning if I have emails or computer work to finish. I don’t like to do that kind of work at the studio. First of all, my computer gets super dirty there and also I like to concentrate on the creative process without interruption. The first hour usually includes cleaning up any mess from the previous day and making coffee. Cleaning allows me to mentally prepare before I start painting–you know, feel like I’m starting out with some kind of control. I take a break mid-day to take Clyde to the park and grab lunch. By the end of the day, the studio is a mess and I try to leave it that way but it goes against my nature. I really wish I could come in the next day to see the work hung up with no distractions but I run out of time the night before. If I clean before I leave I tend to forget what I was doing or I lose the rhythm of my process so I leave it but it’s hard. I rarely leave the studio before 8 pm unless I’m headed to gallery openings.

What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?

I don’t own it anymore but my favorite object I ever owned was my 1956 VW beetle. I found it at an estate sale in Berkeley, CA and it had only 80k miles on it. It didn’t even have a gas gauge so you had to guess when to refill it. Her name was Ladybug. It really felt like I was going back in time when I drove it.