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Ruth Marten, 12/21/12, New York City

In response to the question of what has led me from tattooing to Hair depiction and, now, to reworking 18th century copper plate engravings, I can respond by stating that I have always loved linear work and have a fascination with history and cultural attitudes. When I began tattooing in 1973 in New York City, it was illegal and narrowly defined as much by the carny type designs as by the process itself. The challenge, then, was to bring new and more artistic ideas to the craft. Don Ed Hardy, Cliff Raven and many other artists imagined this new approach and everyone on the Planet knows how that worked out.

By 1980, I had quit tattooing because of the Aids Crisis and was beginning what would become a 17 year fascination with all things Hair, Hair-Do, Social attitudes about Hair and Hair as death defier. By the late 1980's, the extraordinary African American Style "Sculptures" were everywhere and I would often imagine such a concoction only to see it walk by me on the sidewalk. Hair threads were easily replicated with a good paint brush bringing into the mix an echo of Asian calligraphy, also a passion.It was a meaty subject that, when it quit me, left me high and dry until I wandered up to the print table at the local Flea and bought an old Chippendale print of two chairs, wondering how the paper would respond to ink and brush. That set me off onto my current work and very much allows my love of history and that which I learned from 30 years of Book Illustration into the conversation.

Histoire un-Naturelle, the title of my book from 2008, is a comic term/turn from the wonderful animal etchings commissioned by the Duc de Bufon in his multiple volumes of Histoire Naturelle. The wonky and resolute presentation of mammals, birds, botany, etc. in a kind of mug shot, (profile view) speaks volumes about this infancy of illustration of the Natural World and how this cataloging, picture by picture, was leading Society away from the oppressive ignorance of Religion. I'm all for that. Humor is inevitable, given the passage of time and the use of photography over the past 181 years, but I champion these marooned little soldiers of early knowledge.

I think it quite obvious what I'm doing with the picture, but if I'm really being successful I and the Viewer will have a hard time working it out. Forgive the mystery but if it is revealed too clearly we will all have to see clumsier versions in short order. I will say, though, that I mostly start without a plan and am responding to a print I'll notice. For my upcoming show I am being more controlling in that I am trying to free myself from the restraints of small pictures and innovate the scene with the addition of printed elements.

 

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