I spent the past twenty years making art under the radar. Until 2015 when I started creating installations that included paintings about positive social change.
Being invisible was a tactic I adapted from an early age to avoid drama. As I got older, I would do anything to avoid conflict. As an artist, I played it safe so I wouldn’t say the wrong thing. With time it seemed to say the wrong thing was worse than saying anything at all. It was an inner struggle, but it felt safe and secure.
BAD ART STUDENT
I needed to get out of Los Angeles. I needed to escape the broken girl that came from the streets of Venice. It was the 80’s, and I was attending the San Francisco Art Institute, totally in love with conceptual art, it was an exclusive club for smart artist people. I hoped that no one would notice how un-smart I felt compared to those savvy thinkers and prolific art makers on Chestnut Street. I wanted nothing more than to be as smart and interesting as they were. In school I would study for countless hours, only to get barely passing grades, it was so demoralizing and painful. I would drown my sorrows by marathon painting, keeping to myself. My teachers, Fred Martin, Angela Davis, Carlos Villa, and Julius Hatofsky were my heroes, my mentors, I wanted them to rescue me, to tell me how to create work that mattered. My work was a whisper against the backdrop of big ideas and loud voices.
Admittedly, I was out of touch with my voice, fearful of getting anything wrong. It was easier to not say anything at all.
WISDOM FROM MY ROOTS
Renee Taylor, my mom, she fed the hungry, clothed the poor, even housed the homeless in our one-room apartment that welfare paid for. She knew the importance of people and cared for them as if each person was from family. She had the fiber of a community activist, was armed with hugs and the bible and wasn’t afraid to love. Many of those memories were painful, so it was easy to overlook the good.
It turns out it wasn’t school or my teachers that gave me what I needed to find my voice. It was my mother who used her heart to make every decision in life. Once I let go of being afraid, I could then allow myself to own who I am, and who I’m NOT. I believe we all have a calling. Something that our lives lived have made us a perfect match for.
I didn’t deliberately choose my path, I secretly dreamed about it until one day I found myself living it.
One day I realized that I wanted to be part of the world I lived in. I wanted to matter and connect with my community. So I literally sat down with a piece of paper and made a list of my skills, things that my life experience has made me naturally good at. Then, I noted what it was I learned by surviving my lowest moment in life*; recovery from drug use, and combined it with my skills as an artist. Once I opened my mind to doing everything differently and let go of the fear of getting it wrong the path began to make sense. From there it’s been an honest journey that has been moving rather rapidly.
*from a Martha Beck talk at See Jane Do conference.
IT SUCKS, IT’S WORTH IT
I’m not going lie, it’s hard to work so openly in the public. Doing work that many people won’t understand or even like. Talk about opening myself up for judgment. What keeps me balanced is that I remain authentic to who I am and receptive to change. And that is a daily practice. That the work comes from my truth, something I’ve actually experienced in my personal life. That I remain open to growing, learning along the way. Because I make mistakes in the public eye, I have to be ok with change. Lastly, my friends have become more important, people I can lean into when self-reflection becomes too intense or someone posts something about my work on Facebook that feels shitty. It sucks at times, but it’s totally worth it.
Please feel free to comment below. One thing my mother taught me is that we need each other, so connecting with you is valuable to me.
Love, Ruth Chase