Archibald prize winner Craig Ruddy has returned to ignite our conscious minds with his latest series of empowering portraiture.
In this new series entitled “Awakening Spirit”, the artist continues his tribute to the Traditional Custodians of the land. The Recognition of Australian Indigenous People and Culture is a continued theme explored by Ruddy and has permeated the narrative of his past work and exhibitions. In previous collections Ruddy has provided viewers with contemporary portraits of famous Indigenous people. His iconic portraits of David Gulpilil, Warwick Thornton and Cathy Freeman capture the success of these cultural role models that serve both as a testament and reminder to the greater community of the accomplishments made by Aboriginal Australian’s in spite of the adversity they continue to face. These depictions run as a counter narrative to the all too frequent negative portrayals in mainstream media or the otherwise invisibility of Indigenous people through lack of representation in mainstream culture.
In “Awakening Spirit” Ruddy acknowledges the Indigenous Australian’s that continue to remain invisible. These new portraits depict the faces of the nameless, the unknown, the survivors. These works aim to represent the voices that have gone unheard as well as those still present that are continuing to fight for their human rights. It is a work of recognition as to the resilience of a people, who maintain their cultural connection & sovereign responsibility to look after country, despite the great challenge of upholding their heritage in the face of continued colonisation and industrialisation.
Aboriginal Australian’s have experienced a great collective trauma of loss and separation as a result of colonisation, and it is well documented that trauma remains chronic so long as social causes are not addressed. From a psychological perspective, validation in the course of and bearing witness is vital and necessary in the healing process. So what if these stories remain unacknowledged?
We are compelled to address our discomfort and guilt when reflecting upon these questions. Art is a vehicle for us to bear witness and Ruddy through this work provides us an opportunity to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and to raise and consider the questions that we may not yet have the answers to.
Craig Ruddy – Wild Grass
Tangled bodies become one with the ground and sky, as the sensual drifting lines of Craig Ruddy’s nudes morph into the landscape. The powerful and evocative picture plane works as a visual metaphor for our human desire to be connected to our environment. In Wild Grass, exhibited at Sydney’s Nanda Hobbs Contemporary, the constant motion of the Australian wild grass in the landscape reminds us of what is important for us to successfully exist in a place. It is through this homecoming exhibition that Ruddy locates his genius loci firmly on Australian soil.
‘I’ve loved the wild grass since I was a child, and look at it as a metaphor for life—from our controlled, landscapes and lawns—that seed breaks free and grows at its own pace, its own rhythm. That little strip along the edge of the road where it all grows wild, that’s where real life takes place—free of social norms’.
Now residing in the Byron hinterland of Northern NSW, the environment has become a powerful influence for the artist. Ruddy’s close proximity to the natural world has provided direction and constant inspiration.
‘If you look at identity and purpose as a human being—in Indigenous cultures, they have always had a deep, strong connection with the land—in this modern western culture, we’ve lost that sense of belonging with the earth’.
Ruddy has long been interested in the relationship with country of the Indigenous owners of the land. While traditional Indigenous painting has been concerned with tribal law, spiritualism and the longing to be close to country, Ruddy acknowledges that it is not for him to engage oblique cross-cultural references. Rather he positions his figures in an expressive contemporary context that invites us to delve into his mind on a spiritual plane.
Ruddy’s models are carefully selected relating to his personal sensibilities. His close relationships with his subjects are evident in the sensitivity with which he deals with the female form. Sparse drifting lines that contrast with sections of intensely layered charcoal, at once illustrate both strength and vulnerability in the women. Ultimately, his dynamic line anchors person to place.
Jagged strokes and visceral moments of dark repeated marks hint at an underlying tension. Splashed and dragged paint on the surface of the work echo this potency—creating a beautiful patina with vibrant strawberry pinks, iridescent blues and rich earth tones—while dissecting strokes allude to a deeper and timely theme of the urgency of respecting our fragile environment. The figures elongate and reach out to the viewer —the grappling hands and feet that stretch for the earth have an ease about them, slightly more fluid and abstract than previous works. Ruddy describes a sense of feeling newly grounded in his artistic process,
‘This work has come about so organically… coming back to Australia I’ve realised a true sense of self I was missing when travelling…’
This fresh energy combined with Ruddy’s mastery of effortless composition, see lines and layers dance across the picture, rhythmically and raw. The works are powerful and dynamic in their rendering of the human connection with sensuality and the land—pure visual poetry.
REMNANTS – of an urban landscape.
Suburban waste bins become the focus of these abstract landscapes. The body of work explores the human mind as an open vast landscape obstructed by glimpses of perceived reality, etched with remnants of the past. We are simply vessels suspended in time, stitched to the eternal passage of life and death as we fill ourselves, empty, and then fill again.
Like ancient ruins, waste bins scattered throughout our urban landscapes become metaphors for the memories of their owners, the remnants that are left in ones mind by the constant flux of life. Past memories, some fully loaded others sprawled empty. Each is potent with its sense in being, though many remain simply as waste, like scratches on a rolling film. We grasp at them constantly in an attempt to complete a picture, to understand what has been before and to foresee a path ahead, weaving between parallel universes, spinning our web to which we cling to as life.
These landscapes could also be taken literally, reflecting a wasteland created by modern civilization. Stark, alluring and atmospheric with crisp vertical white lines suggesting a structured, white picket fence existence. The images are then overlaid with fragmented continuous line drawings of rubbish bins.
Acrylic, oil, cotton thread & needles, ink transfer prints and resin on paper and canvas.