Ruth – Oil on canvas – 32 x 40 inches.

Let’s say you’re walking down a street and you see a friend on the next corner. She’s too far away for you to see the color of her hair or any features of her face. How do you know, at such a distance, that it’s your friend and not someone else? The short answer is that you’re seeing her gestalt, her overall presence or body language: the way she walks, her height and weight, how she carries herself, the tilt of her head, the swing of her arms, and so forth.

I wanted to paint a portrait of Ruth because she is lovely. But I wanted to suggest more about her than beauty. She was indifferent to glamour, so her choice of an informal, white dress seemed perfect. As a dancer, her physical strength was a large part of her personality. She radiated the intelligence and self-confidence of a young woman living on her own in Spain, making friends, mastering a foreign language. Although she is a very direct and outgoing person, she can often be thoughtful and introspective. She was having to make some major decisions about the path her life was going to take, so I posed her on a threshold, not quite inside, not quite outside.

A portrait has always seemed to me to be more than just an accurate representation of a face. And painting a portrait is not just the work of an artist: it’s an act of collaboration, a partnership between artist and subject. I said that I posed her, but the truth is, by being herself, she posed herself. I paid close attention to her, to her presence. Which is another way of saying that we – together – made the portrait.

4 thoughts to “Ruth”

  1. Mike,

    Interesting the way she positions her bare feet — very unladylike, but in line with your comment about her being unconcerned with glamour. As always, however, it’s a beautiful portrait — a wonderful collaboration between artist and model, as you point out. Hope all is well with you.

    On another note, Lyn and I are headed up to Elgin in a couple of weeks for a rare visit. Bill Jones is arranging a get together of some of our old St. Joe’s classmates that are still around, like Caughlin, Beuten, Grace Abraham, Lola Camacho, and others. Should be fun.


    1. Hola Ron,
      Your comment, as usual, is interesting because I hadn’t thought about the position of Ruth’s feet. Over the course of time and after paying a lot of attention to how she held herself, I became used to how she stood naturally. After years of training as a ballerina — her mother was a ballet dancer and also a ballet teacher — Ruth’s normal stances reflected that training. Except that I didn’t even think about that until yesterday when another commentator, who as a girl had also been a ballet dancer, pointed out that the legs of the dancers in many of Degas’ paintings of ballerinas have their feet in similar positions. To be sure, I just googled some images and sure enough, similar foot positions are fairly common in his depictions of ballerinas.

      The reunion in Elgin sounds like a lot of fun. I’ve been in contact with Bill on Facebook and have already apologized for not being able to join you all for the party. Please say hello to everyone on my behalf and give them my best wishes. Anything you feel like sharing with them about what I have been up to is fine with me.

      Thanks again for reading what I have been posting. And thanks again especially for your perceptive observations. I really enjoy seeing what I’ve painted through the eyes of someone else, in particular someone who’s a been a friend for how long now — 75 years? Yikes! Did you ever think we’d live as long as we have? I certainly didn’t.

  2. Well, Jayne and I sure do enjoy this portrait of Ruth. We appreciate the metaphor of her standing on a threshold. Hadn’t thought about it consciously before. The body language communicates a similar hesitancy/expectancy, and the light/dark contrast from outside to in, one door open, the other closed, even her reflection all provide the sense of duality or alternatives. The portrait is certainly complete, but there is no sense of it being static, quite the contrary: immanence, movement, a step about to happen, not unlike the kouros, the ancient Greek statue of a youth about to move forward. Thank you for your commentary. It opens the painting to additional understanding and appreciation.

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