Ruth Marten, artist, on her stoneware sculpture
GB Why did you choose this object?
RM I’ll be frank at the outset and admit that I made this. I’m rarely satisfied with the work I do but this one came without a plan and just seemed to rise up under my fingers, a lovely feeling. My drawing work is often preconceived so it is a pleasure not to know the outcome of a work.
GB What is your sculpture made of? What did you set out to make that day?
RM It’s a sculpture of a mountain and it’s made of white stoneware, glazed with a simple white matte low fire glaze. I hadn’t a clue that morning walking to the pottery. With most of my work there is precious little wiggle room to improvise midway so I particularly like this sculpture as it reminds me of that impulse. I almost lost it in a trade with a dentist collector who replaced a missing tooth but in the end he went for another work – so I’ve got it near my door where it rests, a complete anomaly. It was exhibited, along with four other sculptures at my last show in New York.
GB You use a lot of elements from the 17th and 18th centuries in your art. This was a time when there was still a cult of beauty in art. Are you trying to capture this beauty – or reinvent this beauty? Or are you primarily interested in other values?
RM Your question about beauty is a loaded one. I think beauty happens after the fact, besides the fact. Were I pursuing that goal, I’d end up with kitsch. I like to pursue the Wrong thing with the same dedication and refinement one would normally apply to the Right thing, if that makes sense.
GB You were very successful as a tattoo artist. Do you think tattoos are an attempt to beautify? Or a different cultural statement?
RM The thing with tattoos is, that impulse has exploded beyond anyone’s expectation. Where I teach, at the School of Visual Arts, Tom Woodruff has developed a class in tattoo designs! I enjoyed it more when I was doing it illegally, though the artistry is superb, now. And, yes, it beautifies as well as identifying your ‘group’. Ina Saltz, who’s done several books on typographic tattooing called Body Type, once told me of a moment she had, about to board the bus, when a person wafted by bearing ‘dry clean only’ on the back of their neck. THAT’S a group.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
RM As for what deserves the appellation of Beauty and aside from the extreme subjectiveness that implies, I imagine a rule of thumb might be whatever makes your heart skip a beat.